Four years in the political science major, three minors, four certificates and a plan to take the LSAT by the end of the year, and yet, Samoa native Leilani “Lani” Tafili-Arnett, who graduated last semester, said she has never really liked school.
Tafili-Arnett chalks this ambition up to a desire to do what God has in store for her and provide for her family. In particular, she said her patriarchal blessing, a blessing for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that offers personalized life counsel, played a key role in her decision to study hard in school.
“The thing that motivates me to obey the commandments is the promised blessings that follow. [My patriarchal blessing] says if I pursue an education, and I do my best to stand in holy places, then doors of opportunities will open unto me ... That’s a promised blessing, and I want all the blessings Heavenly Father promised me,” said Tafili-Arnett.
[My patriarchal blessing] says if I pursue an education, and I do my best to stand in holy places, then doors of opportunities will open unto me ... That’s a promised blessing, and I want all the blessings Heavenly Father promised me.
“That is the reason why I’m trying my very best to obey, even if I don’t like school. I know people say I’m good at doing something I don’t like, but they don’t know I’m just trying my best to follow a commandment.”
Her husband, Brian Arnett, a business management major from Louisiana who graduates in December, agreed it is her faith in God and His plan for her that motivates her to work hard and persevere.
“She has a strong faith that she’ll be able to accomplish what the Lord wants her to do. She always thinks about what her patriarchal blessing says and the things it tells her she should do, and she just wants to do the very best to accomplish those things.”
“Not smart enough”
Tafili-Arnett explained how growing up she was teased about not being smart enough, which led to her working harder on her assignments. When she began talking about pursuing law, she said some people told her it would not take her anywhere.
“But I’m grateful,” said Tafili-Arnett about these comments, “because from those experiences, I am who I am today with the help of my professors, my family, my friends, my husband and especially my Heavenly Father who trusts me more than I trust myself.”
According to Tafili-Arnett, it was her mission president who suggested BYU–Hawaii and her professors who encouraged her to add many certificates. She said they believed in her abilities even when she did not.
“I have only the very best of things to say about Leilani Tafili. She is a model student who is kind, hardworking, incredibly intelligent and yet so humble,” said Jennifer Kajiyama Tinkham, an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Business & Government.
“She knows how to uplift, inspire and serve, and she always does this with a smile.”
Despite her motivation to study hard and get the best job she can, Arnett explained his wife does have her doubts at times.
Participating in school field trips to Washington, D.C., and Thailand, as well as an internship at the attorney general’s office in Samoa, helped her gain confidence in her abilities, said Tafili-Arnett.
“Back home, you don’t really talk about your accomplishments. A lot of people are humble enough they don’t share. They are not prideful like, ‘Oh, I did this.’ Sometimes, I feel like, ‘Oh, I’m not that good,’ but the trip really helped me [to see] I’m capable of doing great things.”
Tinkham traveled with Tafili-Arnett on a 2018 Washington, D.C. Practicum with the Political Science Department. “We selected 10 of the top students in our program, and had an in-depth learning experience visiting dignitaries, government leaders, circuit court judges and leaders in the U.S. and international entities,” explained Tinkham.
“Lani met with Congresswoman Aumua Amata from American Samoa. She was very busy and said she could only meet for a few minutes. However, upon meeting Lani and another student (Lita Bourne from New Zealand), the Congresswoman spoke to them for more than an hour.
“She was so impressed with both ladies she strongly invited these women to come back to D.C. anytime, and there would be a job waiting for them.”
However, it was thinking of her father that really drove Tafili-Arnett to accomplish everything she could. “Growing up from a poor family motivates me to work harder, get a good job and have more money.”
Tafili-Arnett explained how her father, who passed away a couple of years ago while she was at BYUH, would wake up early in the morning to do as many odd jobs as he could to support his family.
“My dad didn’t have a good job. Thinking about how hardworking a person he was before he passed, it motivates me because I don’t want ... my mom to grow old in that situation. I want to work hard. I want to get a good job so I can help her out.”
Tafili-Arnett said her ultimate goal is to become a lawyer working in immigration law. The idea for becoming a lawyer, she explained, originally came from a show she used to watch on TV, but also from her father frequently saying things like, “It would be nice to have a daughter studying this.”
She took her father’s subtle hints to heart and set out to become a lawyer to make him proud.
“The hope of her dad was to have a successful future for Lani,” said Tafili-Arnett’s close friend Quinney Sharon Suaava, a senior from Samoa majoring in marketing and economics. “Her dad always encouraged her, even before he passed away, that education is the key to success, and she really took that [to heart].”
Her dad always encouraged her, even before he passed away, that education is the key to success, and she really took that [to heart].
Tafili-Arnett explained how after her mission, she went home and got a job, but she was fully set on attending BYUH despite her parents’ objections. “My dad and mom needed the money to help with the family needs ... But I told them that I have to go to school. I told them, ‘I know. I don’t want to go to school, but God commanded me to go to school after my mission, so I have to go.’”
Tafili-Arnett said despite her father’s reluctance to let her go, he always encouraged her to get a good education and study hard.
“Even though he didn’t want me to come to school because he said I had a good job already, I still came. I know he said that because he didn’t want me to leave.
“But when I came, he encouraged me to continue, and I think that he has a big influence on me. I’ll do my best to get into law school, all because of him.”