As I write these words, I recall that almost one year ago our country was struck by the gathering storm of a global pandemic. I remember the first government lockdown in Hawai‘i, imposed last March, and the accelerating waves of uncertainty and anxiety that took hold nationwide. Looking back, few of us anticipated the depth of a crisis that would ultimately take the lives of over a half-million Americans and many more around the world. For many of us, this has been a year of sorrow, loneliness, exhaustion and seemingly unending challenges. At Punahou, as at many schools, the pandemic has also demanded that we make difficult judgment calls based on limited, imperfect information as we weigh safety, risk tolerance and the desire to deliver the best possible educational experience. On many days, I have walked into my office simply hoping to do the next right thing.
When I quiet my mind enough to listen to my heart, however, what I feel most strongly is gratitude. Gratitude, of course, is not merely an emotion. It is also a recognition of the profoundly blessed nature of our lives and the divine grace that flows through our world. It puts our daily lives in perspective and reminds us of the contributions that we too can make. It also sometimes catches me by surprise, and I have discovered moments of wonder, curiosity and brilliance at every corner of Punahou’s campus.
This year, I am especially grateful for the Punahou teachers that adapted to new environments and schedules and worked with extraordinary commitment to support our students. It has been a joy to spend time with them. Last week, I visited Stacey Olson’s first grade classroom and came upon a group of kids immersing themselves in books on a sunny morning. Discovering that one girl was opening a book that I read many times to my own children, I asked her to read it aloud to me, and she regaled me with a dramatic rendition of “Henry and Mudge and the Long Weekend,” laughing hilariously at the funny parts and reminding me of how precious a child’s imagination is. The fact that we were both wearing masks didn’t detract from the moment at all.
I am grateful as well for the many coaches that have enabled our student-athletes to experience the joy of playing on a team, even when league restrictions curtailed our seasons. This spring’s Varsity Boys and Girls Soccer senior ceremonies followed matches that were played with the intensity of World Cup games. The reality that they were intrasquad events, with Punahou players facing off against each other, didn’t diminish the joy of competition. Coaches David Trifonovitch and Shelley Izuno gave their teams a great experience, and the love and pride with which parents placed lei around the necks of their sons and daughters also shone through the rain that fell from Manoa skies.
I am also grateful for all those who have kept the arts alive, inspiring us in times of challenge. The tremendous performances of the five senior soloists featured in this year’s Concerto Showcase, Mira Hu, Erin Nishi, Sejin Park, Sewon Park and Stephanie Yoshida, were powerful reflections of Punahou at its very best. In an era of constant distraction, the tremendous focus and commitment of these remarkable musicians was striking. As Sejin put it, in playing the flute she had learned that “the amount that I put in directly reflects on my performance, and there’s really no cheating the game … It’s an affirmation of how much I can work for something that I really want.”
Our Carnival, led by Student Co-Chairs Ye Won Ham ’22 and Tate Goodman ’22, parent chair Candace Tagawa, and Carnival Coordinator Taryn Yano ’99 Kabei, our Junior Class Deans Christine David and Jonah Ka‘akua ’97, and the hands of so many other parents, students and alumni, gave us all a cause for deep gratitude. In a year in which it would have been so easy to lament the absence of the E.K. Fernandez rides and midway, our School rallied with energy and creativity. Elementary students played games on lower field; the art gallery went online; shoppers picked up plants, fruit, carnival clothing and treats; and a Drive-up Movie on a big screen at Middle Field entertained hundreds who enjoyed a cool evening dinner under the stars. An unprecedented Carnival Giving Mission raised more than $300,000, and the Carnival grossed over a million dollars, providing vital funding for student financial aid.
Finally, I am grateful for those at Punahou who have given their hearts and souls to enriching our community. Junior School Principal Paris Priore-Kim ‘76 retires this year after 25 years of service to our School, including work as a middle school teacher, assistant director for the Luke Center for Public Service, and an Academy dean.
Director of Admission and Financial Aid Betsy Hata retires after more than four decades at Punahou, completing a career that started as an elementary school teacher and Admission counselor. Pauline Lo ’71 Bailey, our chief people officer, retires after leading our human resources team since 1998, and serving as director of co-curricular programs for nearly 20 as well. They will all be greatly missed, and they each leave legacies of distinction and extraordinary care for students, families, colleagues and friends across the School.
Amid a season of challenge, these reflections of Punahou’s true character inspire me. They also give me hope and a profound sense of gratitude for the chance to work alongside all of you to support our School and the community which we serve. We are indeed blessed at Punahou, and that recognition will shape our mission, purpose and sense of responsibility for years to come.
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