Making Enduring Contributions During Unprecedented Times

President Mike Latham ’86

Punahou’s Commencement was especially moving for our family this year. I have always loved celebrating our seniors at that wonderful moment, an inflection point at the start of their adult lives. The fact that our seniors entered the Academy the same year I arrived as President also gave me a strong sense of connection to them. Our daughter Anya graduated in the Class of 2023 as well, making the evening even more joyful for my wife Jenn and me. Following a summer that seemed to fly by, we have now just returned from taking her off to start her first year of college and I find myself filled with a sense of hope, gratitude, and excitement about the future.

I often contemplate the kind of environment our Punahou graduates will encounter as they go off to pursue their degrees, start careers, and build families of their own. One thing is for sure – the world that they are coming of age in is very different than the one so many of us grew up in. Revolutions in technology, communications, and much greater global interconnection have led to a stunning compression of time and space. History itself seems to continually accelerate, as new opportunities and challenges constantly fill the headlines. Artificial intelligence, advances in genetic and medical research, and the staggering capacity to analyze enormous sources of data all suggest a future that may be radically different than the past.    

How should Punahou prepare young people to thrive and make enduring contributions in that rapidly evolving world? First, I believe that we need to deliver an education that will enable our students to learn, relearn, and constantly adapt to new and unprecedented opportunities and conditions. In an era of sweeping change, we need to prepare them not only for college admission or their first job, but ultimately for careers that do not yet exist. That requires us to emphasize vital, transformative capacities for critical thinking, creativity, and curiosity. Alongside the classic, liberal arts emphasis on excellence in communication, scientific reasoning, and the capacity to build and defend a compelling argument, we need to help students develop emotional intelligence, engage in systems thinking, and pursue innovation.

We also need to show them the relevance of what they learn, so that they are empowered to work and take steps toward meaningful change. The complex problems that confront us, ranging from climate change to renewable energy, food security, and human migration, are at once fascinating and daunting.  To address them, our students will need to draw knowledge from multiple disciplines, collaborate in teams, and apply what they have learned to authentic, real-world problems. 

Finally, we need to help our students develop what the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck refers to as a “growth mindset.” We need to show them that their capabilities are not fixed, and that they can continually grow, develop, and improve. When our students are faced with challenges in chemistry, Spanish, ceramics, or calculus, we must aim to help them recognize that their hard work, engagement with teachers, and willingness to try will pay off. In a related vein, we need to cultivate a willingness to experiment, sometimes fail, learn through risk and experience, and move forward.  

At Punahou, our dedicated and outstanding faculty are taking those challenges seriously. As the feature stories of this Punahou Bulletin so brilliantly illustrate, with the support of our teachers Punahou students are deeply engaged in project-based learning, bridging art and science, exploring solutions to the dilemmas of sustainability, and discovering how they can contribute to the preservation and success of American democracy. This work begins, moreover, with our youngest learners, as they develop the habits of collaboration, listening, communication, and problem solving that will serve them far into the future. 

That innovative pedagogy has enabled Punahou students to continue to gain admission to and thrive at the world’s best colleges and universities, and we are very proud of that fact. As our new mission statement emphasizes, moreover, we are also committed to lifelong learning and continued innovation.  Punahou, after all, is “our home to dream and discover our purpose and kuleana to Hawai‘i and the world.” I hope you enjoy learning about that joyous work as much as I have.

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