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Kamehameha Schools graduates aim to empower lāhui wherever they go

May 24, 2024

Like many Hawaiʻi graduates, Cienna Kalehuawehe applied to colleges in Hawai’i pae ʻāina and abroad. Motivated by her internship at a medical center, she charted a career in radiology with her first choice being Kapiʻolani Community College. However, knowing the medical programs on Oʻahu were extremely competitive, she decided to attend the Oregon Institute of Technology instead.

“My dad was excited that his youngest baby girl wouldn’t be going so far,” Kalehuawehe said. “But I have to go wherever the opportunity presents itself.”

The Kamehameha Schools class of 2024 is full of bright, accomplished graduates ready to take on the world and answer the defining question for many local seniors: should I stay or should I go? This choice, filled with both excitement and nervousness, shapes their futures and reflects a broader narrative of balancing cultural identity with personal and professional aspirations.

When Amanda Wilson, a KS Maui college and career counselor, advises students, she has them envision their dream life in 10 years. Many of them share that they just want to be able to come back to Hawaiʻi and buy a home.

“Our students really like the concept of being an ‘ōiwi leader,” Wilson said. “Largely, they share that they want to go out and get educated, then come back and be those leaders.”

In recent years, the gap between Hawaiʻi graduates who leave for out-of-state schools and stay in-state has narrowed, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Considering the infamous coronavirus pandemic dip – where college enrollment significantly decreased across the United States– the closing gap may signal a broader shift.

Cienna Kalehuawehe (left) smiles with her grandmother at the Kamehameha Schools Maui Po’o Kula Scholarships ceremony.

Furthermore, with the high cost of living and increasing outmigration from the islands, it’s a decision that Kalehuawehe doesn’t take lightly.

“It makes me sad that people can’t survive here, especially in Maui,” Kalehuawehe said. “For them, it's not a choice so I hope that I get the chance to come back.”

Kamehameha Schools Hawaiʻi senior Luana Dameg also grappled with this but says she was most disillusioned by what others defined as “success.”

“I knew I wanted to stay closer to home but there is that narrative that moving away makes you more successful,” Dameg said. “That’s really what made it difficult for me to decide.”

But she knew she had to do what was right for her and her future. As an ʻōiwi artist with dreams of selling merchandise, she will be attending the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa for graphic design and Hawaiian studies. Inspired by her KS kumu, she can’t wait to take art classes and further her passion for ‘ōlelo Hawaiʻi.

“Hawaiʻi is the best place for me to build all of that ʻike and still stay rooted in my Hawaiian values,” Dameg said.

For the students preparing for the continent, finding community abroad can be challenging as the comforts of home are thousands of miles and dollars away. Dartmouth-bound Ethan D’Ambrosio chose the Ivy League school because of the heartfelt welcome he received from their Pacific Islanders club when he visited during their Indigenous Fly-In program.

“I never imagined I’d be doing things like making spam musubis on the opposite side of the country,” “D’Ambrosio said. “It feels like a really supportive community.”

At Dartmouth University, Ethan D'Ambrosio will study mechanical engineering, hoping to work in renewable energy to make Hawaiʻi a more sustainable place to live.

Kaʻeo Yuen, a Kamehameha Schools Kapālama senior, is also heading to the Ivys. Yuen dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon and will major in biomedicine at Harvard University. The first person in his family to attend college, he hopes to return and help his community by becoming a doctor.

“Being an ʻōiwi leader is knowing your impact,” Yuen said. “You show that you want to do something for your people and then you do it.”

Ikaika Stone isn’t sure where he is going next. He is at a crossroads financially as he determines whether to enroll in a community college or go directly to the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. In his last year at KS Hawaiʻi, he starred in “Kū I Ka Mana”, launched his modeling career and started a clothing line, Maluʻihi Designs, which doubled as his senior legacy project.

Aspiring to become the next Manaola Yap, Stone is determined to become a fashion designer, no matter how he gets there. He dedicated his first print to his graduating class, an ʻahinahina atop a mountain symbolizing how KS haumāna kūlia.

“Our class thrives in high places,” Stone said. “In my design, the plant is still blooming because we are just getting out, we are just becoming who we are.”

As the class of 2024 steps into the world, they carry with them the values and lessons instilled by Kamehameha Schools. Their diverse paths reflect the enduring spirit of Hawaiʻi: rooted in tradition, yet ever-reaching toward new horizons.

Advancement Director Pono Ma‘a (far left) presents scholarships from the Pauahi Foundation to Ikaika Stone and Luana Dameg (from left to right) for their higher education pursuits.

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