A red carpet was laid outside of Kahuku High School on May 21 for graduates to walk across, move their tassels and pose for photos. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students celebrated outside without a formal ceremony. Kahuku seniors, although disappointed from the reality of their canceled graduation, spoke of how community members turned it into a celebration they were not expecting.
The celebration consisted of Kahuku High School seniors parading in their vehicles through the streets of Laie and Hauula. Members of the community stood on the sides of the road cheering, sending their love with leis, candies, shakas and smiles.
The graduates also felt supported by families participating in an “adopt a senior” program, said Keha Benson, a Kahuku High School graduate. The program involves a senior getting “adopted” by a family who gives the graduates gifts to help the student feel loved and supported.
Benson said, “You go through school for 12 years and graduating is a highlight for every student, but when we heard everything [was] canceled, we were all bummed out,” she added.
Despite the disappointment, Benson said, “We all stayed in touch and helped each other lift our spirits up.”
Benson said she had felt pity for herself and felt mad at the world, then she said, “As you go through the [disappointment], you can’t do anything about it. You’re like rock bottom, the only way you can go is up.”
Marcus Lombard, another graduate, said, “I felt sad at first ... [I went] to work, and it kept me distracted, and the length of time out of school [made it feel] like I already graduated.”
He said he was pleasantly surprised at how the graduation turned out. “I didn’t think it was going to be much, you know. I thought nobody cared. But it felt like they did after the [celebration]. They changed my mind.”
Thoughts from the community
Families set up tents with posters of their graduates on Kulanui Street in Laie. Senior graduates drove by in vehicles full of decorations while honking their horns and cheering in a giant parade. Some community members shared the positives of graduating during uncertain times despite the disappointment of canceled events.
Rachael Tagatauli, a community member, said, “One of my favorite parts is realizing that you shouldn’t take anything for granted because, in one minute, it could be gone.” She said it is essential for people to cherish the moments they have and to be grateful for everything.
According to community member Talia Tagatauli, “It shows how well put together our community is, and you don’t need a graduation to have fun. Even though they didn’t have graduation this year, it still feels like it. We were able to come together with whatever we had and help our seniors feel special.”
Jadelyn Lopez, another community member, said, “One of my favorite parts is [how] it has brought the community closer, even though we are already close. It shows how much we support our classmates and family.”
The Tonga Sisters, who were featured on the Ellen Show in 2018, also created a “Kahuku High School Graduation 2020 Medley” in commemoration of the graduating seniors.
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