Podcast: Voices from the Class of 2020

For this very special episode of the Punahou Team Up podcast, senior Noelle Nakaoka ’20 and alumna Kim-Hee Wong ’14 interviewed a dozen students to understand how their lives were abruptly changed because of coronavirus and the threat of COVID-19. Initial thoughts of disappointment and sadness are replaced by feelings of gratitude. The kids are alright!

Clockwise from top left: Noelle Nakaoka ’20, Kenny Aune ’20, Tara Kaneshiro ’20 and Senior Class President Zane Yamamoto ’20.

Editor’s note: This is a must-listen-to episode. Here’s a little background on the podcasts we’ve produced during COVID-19 … With his deep experience in podcasting, Allen Murabayashi ’90 offered to help Punahou produce its early podcasts, which at first, focused on parent education. After Hawai‘i went on lockdown, Murabayashi, who happened to be visiting Hawai‘i in early March, couldn’t safely return to his home in New York City. So the School has been fortunate to have him interview alumni and others and produce a series of podcasts about life during the pandemic. With a master’s degree in oral history, alumna Kim-Hee Wong ’14 reached out to learn more about podcasting and offer her help to gather oral histories. Nakaoka, meanwhile, was supposed to be my spring editorial intern, but COVID-19 disrupted those plans. She was more than game to join Murabayashi and Wong on the newly created podcasting team, along with Isabelle Rhee ’18, and this is their first project together. – Diane Seo ’86, Punahou editorial director

You can find Punahou’s Team Up podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Simplecast and Google Play.

Podcast Transcript

Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige: Thank you for joining us here this afternoon. These are unprecedented times with the global spread of COVID-19 that requires that we take immediate action.

Allen Murabayashi: Thanks for joining us for the Team Up podcast produced by Punahou school. I’m Allen Murabayashi, an alumnus from the Class of 1990. Today, I’m joined by two cohosts, Kim-Hee Wong from the Class of 2014 and Noelle Nakaoka from the Class of 2020.

So the 2020 school year was just about to enter the fourth quarter. Carnival had just happened, it was another success. And then, kind of at the beginning of March, and then into the middle of March, we had this little global pandemic thing caused by the coronavirus.

Noelle Nakaoka: 2020 has definitely been a wild ride. You know, all throughout high school, you look forward to these last few months of your senior year and never in a million years could my Class have imagined that something as huge as a global pandemic would occur during this time.

Kim-Hee Wong: So where were you Noelle, when you first heard that school was going to be canceled?

Noelle Nakaoka: I can’t pinpoint exactly where I was, but I remember hearing news about COVID-19 seriously affecting China early on this year and wondering if this would affect Hawai‘i. As the situation got worse, the realization that we had no alternative but online school was sort of a buildup through the month of March. This seriously affected many students in different ways, many of whom had important sports seasons or other various activities to close out the year.

Allen Murabayashi: We talked to a bunch of students to get their reactions to the emerging situation.

Zane Yamamoto ‘20: You know, the five stages of grief, the first one is denial. So it was like, I don’t think any of us in December or whenever the news broke that China had this little virus thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to lose the rest of my senior year.’

Jackson Kim ’20: We asked questions why did my grade have to be seniors during this time? And so it’s almost unfair, but like also at the same time, the whole world is experiencing this horrible reality.

Jae-Hee Wong ’21: Being a junior versus a senior, I’m very fortunate that we got to experience all the major activities junior year. So, earlier in the beginning of the semester, we had our carnival and then we were lucky enough to have junior function just two weeks before this entire COVID pandemic happened. So, I think looking back as juniors, we’re really grateful to have had those experiences versus the seniors who missed out on a lot of the great senior events that usually happen that they won’t get to experience.

Brandon Yee ’20: So robotics is during the spring semester. For robotics the field size is, we do it in Stan Sheriff, so it’s a pretty big field. The announcement to cancel all the robotics meets, all the robotics competitions, it came as a surprise.

Payton Kawahara ’23 We got an email from the auntie saying, hey, we’re having a meeting this week. It’s basically deciding the fate of all the spring productions and all those things. And then a couple days later, they sent us an email saying, hey, we’re so proud of all you guys. Like you guys worked so hard, but Holoku has been canceled, but I’m just kind of bummed that, you know, I didn’t really get close with the seniors that much.

Gabe Chaine ’21: We’re going to go to New York City for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. So we got an email, I think, a week before you’re supposed to go, that it was canceled. But I think we had all been feeling that it was going to get canceled as we saw the news and like all the new cases popping up.

Kenny Aune ’20: Yeah. ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’ It was kind of like this. I kind of knew for awhile that it was going to get canceled. It’s just such a bummer that it happened just because it’s this, it’s this project that I worked on for like months since September, I’ve been like memorizing the script. I’ve been reading the music. I’ve been learning the music and the lines and the choreography. And it’s just really, it’s a bit emotional. I’m sorry. And so in ‘Singin’ in the Rain,’ I was cast as Don Lockwood, which is the lead of the musical. And it was my first leading role in a show. And I’m just pretty sad that we lost it. And it’s, it’s not like anyone could have done anything about it. It’s just this wasn’t supposed to happen like this. And it’s just a bummer that this is how things worked out.

Allen Murabayashi: So Noelle, even though no official announcement was made in the week before spring break, it must’ve been increasingly clear that all of the in person school year events might actually end on March 13th the day before spring break.

Noelle Nakaoka: Yes, definitely. We had just come out of sort of the high of having Variety Show all together and really bonding as a Class. And we were really looking forward to Senior Sing and just spending a few more weeks with each other and having Baccalaureate and graduation. So, I think we were just really all looking forward to that. And just as the time came up to spring break, and we realized that just with all the news that was going on, that these events would most likely have to be canceled.

Kim-Hee Wong: What about prom had anything been said about that?

Noelle Nakaoka: Yes. Prom was something that we were looking forward to so much, even just from a girl’s perspective, we had this Google doc that everyone sends in their dress and everyone’s figuring out their dates. And there’s just such excitement around prom as there is every year. But just having this be my senior year, I was really excited and I know that my classmates were too and realizing that prom was scheduled to be right after spring break and spring break was already, a lot of people were canceling their trips and we just kind of knew that it was not going to be happening. So, so some of my classmates came up with this wonderful idea and we called it a very fitting name. We called it the ImPROMptu Prom. And this is how it happened.

Tara Kaneshiro ’20: I came up with an idea around like eight o’clock because it might like potentially be like our last real day of school. And then I don’t know, it just manifests into a functioning prom somehow. I posted it on my Snapchat and my Instagram.

Anna Praywell ’20: So, I remember getting a text on a group chat of someone screenshoting a story and being like, ‘Hey tomorrow, wear your prom attire.’ This was at 8 p.m., I think.

Kenny Aune: And it was literally like nine o’clock the day before. And I saw a Snapchat from someone that was like, everyone dress really nicely. And we’re going to have like a fake prom.

Zane Yamamoto: I don’t know any other group of people that, you know, they, they saw that the writing was on the wall, that their prom would probably be, be canceled. And they chose to hold their own impromptu all, you know, in less than 24 hours

Anna Praywell: Wear your prom attire, wear shoes, dress up. Because, you know, even if we do have prom after this, like this would be a great senior year experience. Right? And then it just went wild.

Tara Kaneshiro: I went over to Kaitlin’s house actually. And that’s when we did the banner at like 11 p.m.

Anna Praywell: So I remember probably in the span of two hours, it was on everybody’s Snapchat stories, everywhere. Everyone was texting about it. And it was like at first I was kind of like, are you doing it? And then another person was like, yeah, I’m thinking of it, like, I’ll bring extra clothes or something like that.

Kenny Aune: You know, I, I didn’t know how official it was, but I saw on everyone’s Snapchat. So I was like, okay, I’ll dress nicely. Cause it’s like, what is their to lose?

Anna Praywell: I remember walking to school and like a dress and feeling super self-conscious.

Tara Kaneshiro: Me and Kaitlin. Right? Like so scared that we would be like the only ones dressed up in our prom attire.

Anna Praywell: Like, Oh gosh, no one else is dressed up. And then I’m walking to the boat. And it was just like, there’s a banner, there were streamers, balloons. It was amazing.

Music playing: “I love you baby, and if it’s quite all right, I need you baby to roam the lonely night.”

Kenny Aune: I went off, full out. I had a huge rainbow tie. I had suspenders. And like these red pants. The music was probably not appropriate for what would have been normal on campus. But I think our deans kind of let it slide just because it was like, well, it’s fine. They’re having fun.

Tara Kaneshiro: It was really cool. Like having so many people like praise this idea, but if it wasn’t for the deans and for Ms. McCarren for allowing all this stuff to happen, allowing us to have the music at the volume as it was like at it, it wouldn’t have been like possible.

Allen Murabayashi: On Saturday, March 14th, Punahou started its two-week spring break, while everyone awaited a final announcement regarding the future of classes.

Mike Latham: Aloha I’m Mike Latham. I’m standing in the Junior School Learning Commons, which opened just seven months ago. Things are quieter these days as our School has responded to the coronavirus pandemic by moving to distance learning. Throughout the years, we have shone our light with compassion, perseverance, and hope. I’m confident that together at this moment in history, Punahou will do that once again.

Kim-Hee Wong: On the first few days of online learning my younger sister, Jae-Hee, a junior in the Class of 2021, recorded some of her first online interactions.

Dan Harano: How are classes going so far? Is it pretty weird?

Student 1: It’s so awkward.

Student 2: So weird. I don’t FaceTime people still. It’s really weird for me to like have my face on a screen.

Kim-Hee Wong: Yeah. Being online for classes sounds definitely just odd and weird. I can’t imagine being a student during this time. Noelle, what did you think when you heard the news that school was going online?

Noelle Nakaoka: Just by keeping up with the news, I think I had realized a while ago that we really had no other option but to continue school online. So when the official news broke, my peers and I weren’t as disappointed as we might’ve been otherwise. Online school definitely took some getting used to though. But after not seeing many of my friends for a couple of weeks, it was just really nice to catch up and to see people’s faces, even though it was through a screen.

Kim-Hee Wong: I talked to some underclassmen, some sophomores, a freshmen, and juniors, and this is what they said.

Payton Kawahara: You could definitely tell that everyone had just woken up. On Wednesday, my first class was at 7:30 in the morning and I had English, which is one of the most boring classes, I think, but it’s, it’s different.

Gabe Chaine: So I had PE at 7:30 in the morning. We did like an actual exercise through a YouTube video with everyone doing it at their house. This PE class that we do is about like playing games, like in the gym or on the field. So it’s pretty different than what we’d normally be doing, but it’s at least like moving and doing something different than just sitting down.

Jae-Hee Wong: The first day of online classes was a bit strange and it was pretty foreign to me because we had tested going onto our virtual classes online before we went to spring break and a few of my classes, but not all of my classes. So getting the process of logging on and then seeing my teacher and having to figure out the technicalities of being able to hear them and take attendance, it was kind of all crazy, but it was pretty fun and interesting at the same time.

Dylen Fujimoto ’20: The first class I had, I think it was advisory.

Allen Murabayashi: That’s like homeroom for you older alumni.

Dylen Fujimoto: And we’ve been with each other for four years and it was just … nothing really necessarily special happened, but everyone was kind of smiling when we first saw each other on that first day last week. And it was, I don’t know, it felt really nice just to see everyone’s faces.

Allen Murabayashi: Even though the future is uncertain, the freshmen, sophomores and juniors will almost certainly resume some classes and activities in person next school year.

Kim-Hee Wong: But the seniors in the class of 2020, aren’t that lucky. Noelle, how are you feeling as your Punahou career is coming to a close, and your next few weeks will be spent online instead of in real life?

Noelle Nakaoka: It’s definitely not what I imagined it to be, but I’m so proud of my Class. We always make the most out of any situation, and we’ve shown time and time again, how resilient we are. Being able to interview some of my peers really reinforced this, and I’m just so proud to be graduating alongside them, even if it’s not the way we always dreamed it would be. At the end of the day. Honestly, all I feel is gratitude for my class, for my teachers, for the six awesome years I’ve had at Punahou and to be able to join an amazing Punahou alumni network. Here’s what some of my classmates had to say.

Jackson Kim: I was like, life is unfair. And I’m like, why us? And I’m like angry, but I think given time to really think about it and like, think about how fortunate we are even in these times has like helped me leveled out and like, think about what to focus on and prioritize. It’s hard to be upset and complain about not getting a prom when there are so many bigger things.

Anna Praywell: I would much rather give up these opportunities that, you know, are, are important. And like they’re, they’re fun. And like they’re what everyone else has. But at the cost, it’s not, it’s not worth it.

Tara Kaneshiro: And we as a community, just have to like look at the bigger picture, which is keeping ourselves and keeping our loved ones safe. And if that means missing out on most of the second semester activities to help stop the spread of the virus, I think it has to be done.

Zane Yamamoto: Basically, like our great grandparents, our grandparents generation were asked to fight in the biggest conflict in human history. And all we’re being asked to do is stay at home. And well, I mean, it has been difficult, but I think that kind of helps to put it into perspective that, yeah, it does suck, but there are a lot of things that suck worse than, you know, having to stay at home.

Tara Kaneshiro: It’s like just a reminder to me of how, again, like blessed, I am to be able to have all these things, even though we are like in a crisis. And I’m so fortunate for everything that I have.

Brandon Yee: I think the thing I remember most is how much I took for granted just being able to see everybody on a day to day basis,

Zane Yamamoto:: You know, there are things that are just part of your life and you, you don’t really appreciate them until they’re gone. Like, I mean, I appreciate so much more my friends and the people who, who spend time with me, who take care of me, who listened to me, and you know, who kind of give that kind of spice and color to my life.

Anna Praywell: I’ve been going to school to Punahou for 13 years, and I’m so grateful for that. And I think that’s the biggest thing I can take away from that, is just gratitude for this opportunity. And if I, if I don’t get to walk across that stage, that doesn’t take away from it. Doesn’t take away from who I am. Doesn’t take away from being a Punahou alumni.

Brandon Yee: I think we’re as still very lucky as Punahou seniors to have such an amazing four-year experience. Even if we can’t have a little bit of the very end of it.

Anna Praywell: You know, it’s just a 12.75 instead of 13, I guess that’s what my friend made up. It’s 12.75.

Dylen Fujimoto: I would say to the class of 2020, please stay in touch. and just continue to care for each other. Yeah.

Zane Yamamoto: If I could pull a quote from Andy Bernard, it is, ‘I wish you could know you are in the good ol’ days before they were gone.’ And so I think, I mean, it’s important to think ahead and to reflect on your mistakes and your past, but really the only moment you have is now. And so I think I would just be grateful for all the people, all the experiences, all the things you have, because once it’s gone, it’s gone. The things that you remember most won’t be ah, man, I got to, I got to be on that paper, I wish I had done better. Or we lost that game against Kamehameha, you know, I wish we’d won it. Or while I was late to class one day, I got yelled at. You won’t remember those things, you’ll remember, I had some of the best friends ever, and I’m glad that we got to spend the time we did. Or I’m thankful for all the teachers who helped me, I didn’t know I was interested in, you know, say economics. But now thanks to them, I know I am.

And I think it’s just really important to recognize things might suck, things might seem bad, but when you look back on it, you won’t remember those, those crappy things. You’ll remember who am I thankful for? What am I thankful for? I always have to end this way, and it’s to say live long and prosper.

Kenny Aune : I’m singin’ in the rain, just singin’ in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again. I’m laughing at clouds so dark up above. The sun’s in my heart and I’m ready for love.

Allen Murabayashi: This episode. Wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions from Tara, Anna, Kenny, Zane, Jackson, Gabe, Payton, Dylan, Lauren, Brandon, Dillen #2, and Jae-Hee. Thanks for your time and your insight, guys. And of course, to my wonderful cohost and co-producers Kim-Hee Wong from the Class of 2014 and Noelle Nakaoka from the Class of 2020. Happy graduation, Noelle,

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