Shortly after the 2020 Commencement, which took place in the midst of a global pandemic and civil rights marches across the country, President Mike Latham ’86 sent a letter to the Punahou community underscoring the work of the School’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group. He concluded with his vision for the Class of 2020: “Using the powerful tools of the law, their skills to communicate, their ability to listen, and their capacity for empathy, I know that they will make a difference.”
Alumnus Ron Cox ’62 responded from Seattle with the following note: “Thank you for your important message. It is timely, given what is going on these days in our country and elsewhere. I am reminded that when I joined the freshman class at Punahou in 1958, I could stand at Alexander Hall, look around, and not see anyone who looked like me. The same was then true for the views from the Junior School and the Winne Units.
But I had good friends during my time there and an exceptional education. One thing that stands out in my mind is that halfway during my sophomore year, I received a message: ‘See your class dean.’ Now, that is not a message one takes lightly. So, when I walked into my dean’s office on the ground floor of Alexander Hall, I did not know quite what to expect. After exchanging preliminary pleasantries, Mr. Iams told me that someone had nominated me to run for class officer for the following year. To this day, I have no idea who did that. But I accepted the challenge, ran and won the office. The next year, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and run again, this time for student body officer. I won again. My time at Punahou prepared me well for my four years as an officer in the United States Army, following my graduation from West Point. And that educational background also served me well when I resigned my commission as an officer to attend the University of Washington School of Law. My service as an attorney in a large Seattle law firm, followed by my service as an appellate judge for over 23 years were all grounded in what I learned at Punahou.
All this brings me back to where I started this message. While there was no Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program at Punahou while I was there, I am glad there is one there now. That is a necessary complement to the training of the fine young women and men in your care and for whom you are responsible to prepare for the future.”
Over the years, Cox has been quick to point out that he was the beneficiary of Punahou’s financial aid program. His father was a first-generation immigrant from the West Indies, and his family moved when he was 2 to Hawai‘i, where his father worked as a carpenter at Pearl Harbor. “Without that scholarship, there was just no way my family could have afforded for me to attend and get the benefit of the education and the associations I gained as a result.”
Recently, Cox received the 2019 University of Washington Distinguished Alumni Veterans Award, which cited the three bronze stars he was awarded for his leadership in Vietnam, his impressive record at West Point, and as an attorney and judge. Believing strongly in service, he offers this advice to Punahou students: “Regardless of your profession, remember to carve out some time in your life for public service, however you define that term.”
This year, he made a gift pledge to the Barack Hussein Obama ’79 Endowed Financial Aid Fund (originally established in 2013 by Dr. Willam F. Haning ’67), which supports a student who demonstrates an interest in public service. Himself an exemplar of public service, he honored Punahou and its legacy with his generosity. “I will always cherish my time at Punahou, and I will always be thankful for the many benefits I have received from my time there,” he said.