Our ‘Swiss Army Knife’ Generation

By Noëlle Nakaoka ’20

As I drove through Chamberlain Drive on May 30, I received a beautiful haku lei and mask that matched my white holoku. Instead of receiving my diploma at the Stan Sheriff Center amid cheers from friends and family, I walked through the courtyard of the Sullivan Administration Building, waving to smiling teachers projected via Webex on a large TV screen.

I had made it, but not in the way I expected. During our Carnival flash mob, as we shouted the lyrics to “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” – which had become our Class anthem at Variety Show – my heart swelled with pride. It felt like the climactic scene of a coming-of-age movie. We felt unstoppable. Then, in a matter of mere weeks, the unimaginable happened. As the coronavirus outbreak spread globally, bubbling anticipation for spring break was replaced by an uneasy tension. Friday, March 13 would be the last day our Class would walk the halls of Punahou together.

This is hardly the first challenge my Class has faced. I was born a few months before 9/11, and thus, never knew a world without strict airport security. We entered elementary school in the midst of an economic recession; began middle school after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing; and went into hiding in 2018, after receiving a false alert of a ballistic missile heading toward Hawai‘i.

Yet, the coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly the biggest, and most ill-timed, challenge for our Class. The college decisions we celebrated a few months ago now are full of question marks. Some of
my classmates are deferring their acceptances to take a gap year in the face of uncertainty. I’ve decided to attend the University of Hawai‘i Manoa this fall to study business, after considering the health risks of going away, restricted travel and potential mandates of distance learning. At this time, it’s still not clear what is the “right” decision.

Each generation has been shaped, not only by the hardships endured, but by how these obstacles were overcome. I consider the symbol of my generation to be the Swiss Army knife, which is full of useful tools to survive any situation. We have endured so many challenging events, but with each one, came lessons and skills to better equip us for what’s ahead.

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