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For more than 20 years now, the Rev. Kalani Wong has served the haumāna, kumu, staff and ʻohana of KS Maui as its kahu, shepherding the ʻAʻapueo flock through life’s blessings and challenges. KS Maui's 27th Founder’s Day will be the last time Wong presides over the affair.

A Final Founder’s Day for Rev. Kalani Wong

Dec. 15, 2022

The real meaning of Founder’s Day didn’t hit the Rev. Kalani Wong, KSK’74, until after he graduated from Kamehameha Schools.

“As a student, you don’t fully realize what it means to honor Pauahi’s legacy,” he said. “When you come back as an alum, when you sing the songs, recite the verse, Founder’s Day takes on a different tone. You have more of an appreciation for what Pauahi has done. That’s when the words ‘forever indebted’ takes root.”

For more than 20 years now, Wong has served the haumāna, kumu, staff and ʻohana of KS Maui as its kahu, shepherding the ʻAʻapueo flock through life’s blessings and challenges. On Monday, the school will celebrate its 27th Founder’s Day, and it will be the last time Wong presides over the affair.

At its heart, Founder’s Day is a time to recite our story, particularly as people touched by the life and legacy of our beloved princess, Wong said.

“Throughout history, civilizations — whether the Israelites or Hawaiians — always came together to repeat the tales of the past. Founder’s Day allows us to reflect upon the life of Pauahi and her kahiau spirit,” Wong said. “Her story serves as an example and an inspiration. We all have a purpose in life. Her purpose was to build up her people so we might become ‘good and industrious’ individuals.”

Many seniors will be celebrating their final Founder’s Day as students alongside Wong, who has watched them grow from wide-eyed ʻōpio into faithful young adults.

“I can recall specific students walking onto campus for the first time, and then to see them as graduates walking across the stage is — wow, it’s neat,” Wong said.

Primary and secondary school chaplains are “unicorns” in the world of ministry, Wong said. In addition to being an ordained pastor with the United Church of Christ, he’s also an educator and steeped in Hawaiian culture. He developed KS Maui’s Christian Education curriculum, which is carefully planned to coincide with the learning haumāna are doing in other content areas.

“My purpose here has been to create faithful people. I want our students to realize that Ke Akua is always here for us, and as his people we need to always be here for others,” Wong said.

Wong sees evidence of Ke Akua working in our lives every time he sees our alumni in the community.

“As seniors, I’ll hear them say, ‘I want to do this,’ or ‘I want to do that.’ To see them follow through and be that individual they envisioned is awe-inspiring,” he said.

He will cherish helping haumāna have their own “aha moments,” like when he’d take groups on huakaʻi to Kalaupapa.

“For the last five or six years, in each group at least half have found ʻohana there. Sometimes it’s a surprise to them – for some families, being sent to Kalaupapa meant you were cut off from your ʻohana,” Wong said. “Kalaupapa is a place where our haumāna have learned acceptance of ‘the other’ and rebuilding their ʻohana.”

While Wong plans to retire from his role at the end of the school year, that doesn’t mean he won’t still be around. Wong hopes to walk alongside the new kahu to provide support, as well as to continue to be of service to Maui and the KS ʻohana.

When we caught up with Wong, he was sitting at his desk overlooking the Māhele Luna campus, writing a reflection on legacy, what one leaves behind. When asked what he thought his legacy would be after he retires, he laughed.

“I don’t think we can know our legacy until after we’re gone,” he said. “I look around and see the different aspects of this place that I’ve been part of, but is that a legacy? A legacy is what is shared by those who follow after you, and what they’ve accepted into their own lives. I won’t know what that is until people say, ‘this is what I got from you.’”

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