LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i High School seniors celebrated the end of their high school careers at Vidinha Stadium on Friday evening with a graduation ceremony marked by heartfelt speeches, proud families, hopeful students, and a class-wide performance of the 2010 Miley Cyrus song “I’ll Always Remember You.”
“With our future in our hands. So many dreams. So many plans,” sang the 265 students making up the Class of 2023, during the class performance that left many parents visibly emotional.
The song followed a series of speeches by school faculty and students, linked together by encouraging messages of growing through mistakes, persevering through challenges and embracing life’s uncertainties.
“As you embark upon the next chapter of your lives, embrace your passion, chase your dreams and be unafraid to take risks,” said Principal Marlene Leary from the podium. “Remember that the greatest successes often arise from the moments of uncertainty and challenges.”
Associated Student Body President Emma Burgess reminded her classmates that they were “slapped across the face by COVID-19 pandemic” during their first year of high school, but the experience has left them all “with strength like no other,” she said. “We may prefer to leave it in the past, but I wanted to remind you that we made it.”
The event recognized students for several athletic and academic achievements, including the 23 graduates who were honored as class valedictorians. Tanner Hubbard stepped up on the stage to give the valedictorian speech, where he reflected on memories from sports, clubs and social events.
“Let us strive to make a positive impact on the community here on Kaua‘i or wherever your passions may take you in this world,” Hubbard said.
Hundreds of family members and friends came out to the event, proudly holding up handmade signs and cheering for graduates as they walked across the stage to receive their diplomas.
During a closing speech, Hema Naka‘ahiki-Young offered some advice for those uncertain of their next steps after high school.
“As you continue on with your future endeavors, remember that it’s OK if you don’t have a plan yet, and it’s OK to fail, because ‘life’ without an F would just be ‘a lie,’” said Naka‘ahiki-Young, who co-emceed the event with Emi Sakamoto.
The commencement was followed by a lei ceremony, where graduates were congratulated by friends and family in the packed stadium parking lot.
“The whole ceremony was just phenomenal. I had a blast, honestly,” graduate Grace Aguilera exclaimed, moments after reuniting with friends.
Aguilera said high school was “not really” a good experience.
“But that makes this moment even better for me. Because I made it and it’s over. And now I’m excited for new things to come,” said Aguilera, who plans on studying computer science at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa.
Khiani Garcia is also set to attend the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, but she intends on studying secondary education in hopes of one day teaching Hawaiian culture on Kaua‘i.
“It still doesn’t feel real,” said Garcia, contemplating life as an official high school graduate.
She reflected on the moment shortly after receiving congratulatory lei from friends, family members and coaches.
“The future is ahead of us, and whatever the future holds for us, I know it’s gonna be great,” she said.
Classmates Evan Batalucco and Cade Myers had lei stacked up to their necks as they took a pause from the celebrations to reflect on their high school experiences.
“It was really fun,” said Batalucco, who plans on playing baseball at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. “I enjoyed the whole baseball experience and playing sports and everything.”
Myers, who’s looking forward to playing basketball at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, also called sports a highlight.
“It was great to try a lot of new things. I got to try a lot of new sports and meet new friends,” he said.
Jaclyn Oshira, who plans on going to Portland State University to study forensic science, also took a moment to contemplate the achievement in a combined interview with her parents, Denise and Davis Oshira.
“I have so many emotions running through me right now. But I’m really happy,” she said.
Denise and Davis Oshira praised their daughter for the achievement.
“I’m very excited to know she has a bright future ahead of her, and I’m just so so proud of her,” said Denise Oshira.
Graduate Jayden Matsunaga was one of many others to shed tears during the ceremony’s “heartfelt” graduation speeches.
“They really got some waterworks going,” he said.
But Matsunaga joined his classmates in looking ahead to the future.
“I’m sad that it’s ending, but now I’m on to great things,” he said. “College, life, whatever,” he laughed.
Emma Grunwald, reporter, can be reached at 808-652-0638 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: The Garden Island
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