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Kanu o ka ‘Aina commencement ceremony honors graduate’s family lineages, creates unique celebration

Principal Allyson Tamura presents Makana Anuhea Uluwehi Mahuna with her diploma during the Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School graduation ceremony. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Principal Allyson Tamura presents Makana Anuhea Uluwehi Mahuna with her diploma during the Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School graduation ceremony. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School graduates dance hula during the commencement ceremony at Kahilu Town Hall on May 30. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School graduates dance hula during the commencement ceremony at Kahilu Town Hall on May 30. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Joshua Richard Kealoha receives his diploma from principal Allyson Tamura during Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School’s graduation ceremony. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Joshua Richard Kealoha receives his diploma from principal Allyson Tamura during Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School’s graduation ceremony. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Nairie Naleialoha Yuk-Lan Pahio Kunishige is covered in lei following Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School’s commencement ceremony on May 30. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Nairie Naleialoha Yuk-Lan Pahio Kunishige is covered in lei following Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School’s commencement ceremony on May 30. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kiersten-Tawny Kamaluonalani Kamehanaokala Hurley receives her diploma from Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School on May 30. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kiersten-Tawny Kamaluonalani Kamehanaokala Hurley receives her diploma from Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School on May 30. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School graduates high-five following the commencement ceremony on May 30 at Kahilu Town Hall. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School graduates high-five following the commencement ceremony on May 30 at Kahilu Town Hall. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School held a graduation ceremony for its 10 graduating seniors on May 30 at Kahilu Town Hall. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)
Kanu o ka Aina New Century Public Charter School held a graduation ceremony for its 10 graduating seniors on May 30 at Kahilu Town Hall. (PHOTO BY ANNA PACHECO| SPECIAL TO NHN)

Kanu o ka ‘Aina graduated 10 seniors during a custom commencement exercise on May 30. Dressed in eye-catching Sig Zane geometric black and white, sans caps and gowns, the graduates sat onstage at Kahilu Town Hall facing a packed audience of family and friends.

“My message for you today, is that you can’t escape suffering. It’s part of life … it is your reaction to suffering that can bring happiness,” said Matt Hughes, keynote speaker, in his address to the class.

A math and science teacher at Kanu for six years, Hughes explained his move from California to Waimea, and how he eventually came out of retirement from teaching at HPA to become a teacher at Kanu. He also referenced Clay Bertelmann, founder of the voyaging society Na Kalai Wa’a, and told the students two things gleaned from Bertelmann’s wisdom; to make use of their time, and to honor the culture by doing meaningful work. After Hughes finished speaking, he gave each graduate a macramé owl he had made himself.

Three students were surprised by scholarships, given out by principal Allyson Tamura.

Alyssa Nicole Heenan received the Ala Pajimola Scholarship for making a significant contribution to Hawaiian culture. For community efforts and exhibiting Kanu o ka ‘Aina’s values, Aloma Bell-Kaopuiki received the Clay Bertelmann scholarship. Kamehana Hurley was awarded the Kanu o ka ‘Aina Scholarship for living and demonstrating Kanu’s mission in education and volunteerism.

Departing from the usual graduation ceremony traditions, the commencement was simple and touching.

“The ceremony is so different, and something we had to adjust to,” said Aloma Bell-Kaopuiki, one of the graduates who attended Kanu since her freshman year. “Some of us wanted the cliché cap and gown. But we came up with something natural for us, and although we had a short amount of time, we pulled it off, I think.”

One at a time, by alphabetized last name, each student stood onstage and recited his or her genealogy in Hawaiian. After, each graduate ascended the stairs to the stage with his or her parents or grandparents. Parents were given a kihei (meaningful hand-printed cloth), which they tied around their child’s shoulder, and a leihulu (feather lei) to tie around his or her neck. Principal Tamura gave the student a diploma, then family members were embraced by all of the teachers.

Throughout the school year, each graduate worked on printing their kihei with something that would represent or symbolize their lives in some way. Bell-Kaopuiki said hers was printed with four of the mountains of Hawaii Island, and five circles, which represented her family members, including herself.

Working on her leihulu was “kind of drag,” Bell-Kaopuiki said with a laugh.

“But it taught us a lot of patience, which high schoolers don’t have,” she said.

After each student received their diploma, the graduates danced a hula accompanied by Chadd Paishon and Pomai Bertelmann. Chants rang out as everyone stood to congratulate the graduates, and the ceremony ended with the blowing of a conch shell.

As with all Hawaiian graduation ceremony endings, each student was quickly piled high with lei, balloons, gifts and lots of hugs and kisses.

Graduates of Kanu o ka ‘Aina NCPCS include: Aloma Kamalani Bell-Kaopuiki, Ku’uleimae’ole Joan Dean-Garmon, Kekahili’amauna’aloha’akekai Ferreira, Ku’ulei Ku’umomimakamae Guerpo, Alyssa Nicole Heenan, Kiersten-Tawny Kamaluonalani Kamehana’okala Hurley, Joshua Richard Kealoha, Makana Anuhea Uluwehi Mahuna, Alexander Lokahi Rillang Mehau and Nairie Naleialoha Yuk-Lan Pahi’o Kunishige.