Ho‘i Hou i ke ‘Ehu

Kiara Puakenamu Leong


Kiara Puakenamu Leong
Photo: Kīhei de Silva
Kiara Puakenamu Leong, valedictorian of the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus Class of 2006.

Kiara Puakenamu Leong was the valedictorian of the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus Class of 2006. A fifth-year Hawaiian language student, Puakenamu is set to pursue a degree in Anthropology at Scripps College in Claremont, California. She exemplifies a student who, in her own words, strives to achieve "the best of both worlds" - excellence in scholarship and an appreciation and understanding of nā mea Hawai‘i. She gave the following speech during commencement ceremonies on May 28, 2006, speaking first ma ka ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i and then ma ka ‘ōlelo haole. Puakenamu's message was clear -- as beneficiaries of Pauahi's legacy, Kamehameha graduates have an even greater kuleana to in turn give back to the larger Native Hawaiian community Pauahi wished to serve.



Aloha mai kākou e nā kumu, nā haumāna, nā ‘ohana, a me nā hoa makamaka mai ka lā hiki a ka lā kau! ‘O kēia ka lā iwakāluakūmāwalu o Mei, makahiki ‘elua kaukani me ‘eono. He lā ko‘iko‘i loa kēia lā i nā ola o nā haumāna o kēia papa. Ma hope o ka pau ‘ana o kēia ahiahi, ‘o mākou nō nā haumāna puka hou o ke kula ‘o Kamehameha. No kekahi mau haumāna, i Kamehameha lākou i hele aku ai no ka nui o ko lākou mau makahiki kula. A no nā haumāna ‘ē a‘e, ‘o kēia makahiki ko lākou makahiki mua ma kēia kula. Akā na‘e, ‘a‘ole ka nui o nā makahiki ma Kamehameha ka mea ko‘iko‘i. Inā he Kamehameha ‘oe, he Kamehameha nō. A ‘o ka mea ko‘iko‘i loa, ‘o ia ho‘i nā pōmaika‘i i loa‘a mai iā mākou, ‘o ia ho‘i nā makana mai ke ali‘i Pauahi mai. Ua pono mākou ma kēia kula i nā ‘ano like ‘ole. Nui nā haumāna i koho e a‘o a ‘a‘apo i ka ‘ōlelo Hawai‘i. E nā haumāna, inā ua maopopo iā ‘oe ko‘u ‘ōlelo ‘ana, e ‘olu‘olu, e kū i luna me ka ha‘aheo. E ke anaina, inā ua ho‘olono ‘ia ko‘u leo e ka lohe o kou pepeiao a maopopo nō ho‘i ka ‘ōlelo Makuahine iā ‘oukou, e ‘olu‘olu, e kū i luna me ka ha‘aheo. Mahalo. Hiki iā ‘oukou a pau ke noho i lalo.

In 1992, class valedictorian Noe Goodyear-Kaopua gave her Commencement speech almost entirely in Hawaiian. Some say that after about two minutes, the majority of her audience seemed to lose interest. At the end of her speech, she asked, much as I did, how many people understood what she was saying. Only a smattering of applause answered her question and unfortunately proved her point. Her closing words before she returned to her seat? "And that’s the pity."

I obviously began my speech tonight in Hawaiian. I then asked that the students and audience members who understood what I was saying stand to indicate their understanding. I realize that in no way does every individual sitting in the NBC tonight speak the Hawaiian Language; however, I wanted to prove a point. From the two dozen or so people who understood the speech of Noe Goodyear-Kaopua, look at how far we have come.

We are currently at a critical point in the almost 120-year history of the Kamehameha Schools. Over the past few years, Kamehameha has been trying to incorporate more and more ‘ike Hawai‘i into its courses. About half of the student body at Kamehameha chose to enroll in Hawaiian Language classes for the 2005-2006 school year. We are the only school anywhere to offer 5th year Hawaiian classes, and next year we hope to add a Hawaiian 6 to that list. There are even language classes being held for the staff and faculty of the school. For the first time, the school is also adding to its curriculum Hawaiian Culture and Hawaiian History classes that are being taught in our mother tongue. These Hawaiian initiatives have also extended to other curricular areas. For example, the English Department has recently initiated courses, like the Hawaiian and Pacific Literature classes, that focus on a Hawaiian literary perspective, and, beginning next year, there will be a Hawaiian Literature honors course offered at all grade levels.

Several students, over the past four years, have gone beyond the classroom when it comes to perpetuating the language of our kūpuna. These individuals have not let their native language hamper them, but rather have used it as a stepping-stone in learning other languages. These classmates have simultaneously taken two language classes, Hawaiian and either Japanese, Spanish, or French. In the same sense, there are many students who have excelled academically through the years while continuing to study the Hawaiian Language. One-third of the students in my Hawaiian 5 class will be graduating tonight with Honors diplomas. Our culture does not have to be a roadblock to accomplishing great things, as some people may think. Kamehameha is headed in a positive direction. The "best" of both worlds -- excellent scholarship and understanding of nā mea Hawai‘i -- can be achieved, but only if we dedicate the time, effort, and belief in making it happen.

Tonight is one of the last times that the class of 2006 will ever sit together as one. We will each be leaving Kamehameha and heading off on our own. 98% of the class -- 437 of the 444 students -- has chosen to attend either a two- or four-year college next year, two brave individuals have decided to enlist in the military, two classmates have made the choice of entering directly into the “real world” of working adults, and three people have decided to pursue other activities. After we depart from Kōnia field tomorrow morning, we will each head down our individual paths of life. Starting from the same place, the Kamehameha Schools Kapālama Campus, these paths will take us in different directions. Some of our paths will branch out across the globe, while others will remain close to home; some of these paths will cross frequently, while others will not at all. My message tonight is that at some point along our individual paths, we must make a conscientious effort to give back to the Native Hawaiian community.

We are all Hawaiian, and not only are we all kānaka maoli, but we are fortunate enough to have benefited from the legacy of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and from all that Kamehameha has to offer. While some of us have chosen to embrace our culture more than others, it is all of our kuleana, our responsibility, as Pauahi-embraced native Hawaiians, to give back to the generations that follow us.

People go to culinary school to become better chefs; they attend art school to become better artists; they enroll at law school to become better lawyers; we were students at a Hawaiian school to become better Hawaiians.

There is an ‘ōlelo no‘eau that states: "Ho‘i hou i ke ‘ehu me he moi la -- Returns to the broiling sea like a moi fish." This wise saying is said of one who leaves home for a better chance of self-advancement, only to return home at a later time. I could not better express my hopes for our class. We leave our safe haven up in the hills of Kapālama because it is only by doing so that we will be able to move forward in our lives. So we board that plane, ride that bus, or drive that car into our futures. We continue our educations, we get jobs, we travel, we have families, we grow as people, we become successful, and then we return to the place where our childhoods ended and our adult lives began. We may return professionally by becoming lawyers who specialize in helping the Hawaiian cause, or we may return educationally by teaching our children what we learned while at Kamehameha. There are many different avenues that can be taken to fulfill this responsibility; the important thing is that we fulfill it.

My fellow seniors, soon-to-be alumni of the class of 2006: I know that the future holds great things for us. We’ve seen each other through a lot over the years, and I know we will continue to be there for one another. I wish you all the best in your life endeavors and want you to remember to "Ho‘i hou aku i ke ‘ehu me he moi la," for there will always be a place for you in the hearts and homes of the people of Hawai‘i. Ke akua pū me ‘oukou a mālama pono. Mahalo.