My Hope for Students: Mike Latham ’86

By Mike Latham ’86

I woke early on the first day of school and walked uphill to the Omidyar K – 1 Neighborhood. After a summer of anticipation, I was eager to welcome students back to campus, both for them and for me. Alongside Chaplain Lauren Medeiros, several grinning Academy seniors and a phenomenal team of K – 1 staff and teachers, I greeted our youngest learners and their parents and talked with them about their excitement for the year ahead. An hour or so later, accompanied by Board Chair Mark Fukunaga ’74, several other Trustees and Principals Paris Priore-Kim ’76 and Emily McCarren, I spoke to our second graders through seniors at Convocation on Alexander Field, officially inaugurating the academic year.

Mike Latham ’86 speaks to kindergartners at the Omidyar K – 1 Neighborhood. “The education of our children and the work of helping them realize their full potential is the reason why Punahou exists,” Latham says.

The morning was joyful, enthusiastic and inspiring. The education of our children and the work of helping them realize their full potential, after all, is the reason why Punahou exists. Standing before our students as an alumnus, a new president and a new Punahou parent, moreover, I found myself reflecting on my most profound hopes for them. As I considered what Punahou might bring to our students, I found myself thinking about what our students themselves might also bring to the School. How would they approach the opportunities arrayed before them? What skills and abilities would they strive to develop here? What larger meaning and sense of purpose might they carry into the future?

First and foremost, I hope our students will explore all that Punahou has to offer. Their families and loved ones, along with the friends and supporters of our School, have given them an incredible gift in the form of a Punahou education. So why not make the most of it? As they bring their very best selves to their classes, athletic endeavors and their activities in music, theatre, dance or art, I hope that our students will be brave and willing to experiment.

Alongside their drive to achieve, I hope that they will be motivated by a deep curiosity and wonder, and that they will discover talents, interests and abilities that they never knew they possessed. Punahou’s inquiry-led, learner-centered curriculum will help them develop the key abilities needed to thrive, wherever they go and whatever they do. Our emphasis on the application of knowledge to real-world problems and projects will help them put theories into practice. As our students explore the world around them, I hope that they will also engage in real self-discovery too, and come to understand their true, unexplored potential.

I also hope our students will pursue opportunities to learn from people who are different than them. In so much of our daily lives, we tend to gather with those who are most familiar to us, those who share the interests, experiences and cultures that are most similar to our own. The tremendous diversity of Hawai‘i, and of the Punahou ‘ohana, however, give us all the opportunity to listen carefully to the stories, values and perspectives of a much wider circle. At its core, Punahou is a learning community, and we know that the greatest innovation, problem-solving and creativity are found in teams that bring to bear a wide-range of thinking styles, insights and life experiences.

Punahou’s Case Accelerator for Social Entrepreneurship, Luke Center for Public Service, Kuaihelani Learning Center and Wo International Center all offer ways for our students to reach beyond the walls of our own beautiful campus. By reaching outward, I hope our students broaden their intellectual understanding, deepen their empathy and develop a sense of social responsibility and compassion. 

Finally, I hope that all our Punahou students will develop the confidence, resilience and perspective to navigate a challenging and complex future. Their ability to adapt to new situations, learn and relearn vital skills and find new professional pathways will be essential for college and their future leadership. So, too, will their understanding that asking for help when you need it is never a sign of weakness, but instead reflects a sense of maturity. Punahou’s emphasis on social and emotional learning provides a vital counterpart to the longstanding academic excellence and rigor which remain essential priorities for our School. In this respect, I hope that our students grow through an education that treats them as whole people, attuned to their balance and wellness in addition to their accomplishments.

As I write this, I can look out my office window across a grassy field toward Bishop Hall and the precise spot where, in August of 1980, my father dropped me off on my very first day at Punahou as a new seventh grader. I remember how he walked me to my classroom in his Navy officer’s uniform, shook my hand and wished me good luck. 

I recall my tremendous sense of excitement and nervousness at that moment. Thirty-nine years later, I look back with a profound sense of gratitude for the institution that, more than any other in my life, helped me to become the person I am today. As Punahou’s new president, I hope that our students might someday come to see our School in that light too.

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