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Aka`ula Sings for Grad’s Future

Aka`ula School’s first high school graduate claimed her diploma May 30, marking an important milestone for both the young scholar and for the school.

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It was an afternoon of joy and tears for Aaliya Chyna Ku`uipo Ka`ai, who as Aka`ula’s lone upperclassman served as a mentor for younger students and a helper for the teachers. She took deep breaths on stage before addressing the crowd and reflecting on her years at the school.

“While the diploma I receive today will be an important thing I carry with me wherever I go,” said Ka`ai in her graduation speech, “I want you to know that the diploma is just one piece of the puzzle.”

Teachers spoke of their confidence that Ka`ai will be very successful. Students hailed her as a role model and friend. Some younger classmates serenaded her with a rendition of The Temptations’ “My Girl,” singing and dancing for Ka`ai, who sat behind them on stage in her cap and gown.

Ka`ai’s graduation also reflects the progression of the school, which in its nine years has received national recognition for its environment-based curriculum. School principal Victoria Newberry said it is validation that the school is affective in providing Molokai youth more education options.

“We realized our kids really needed a high school choice as well, and we didn’t think we’d get here this quickly,” Newberry said, noting the school’s decision to slowly expand into a high school. Ka`ai attended Aka`ula as a middle school student and returned to continue her education there. “Ku [Ka`ai] came back and said ‘I need you. I miss you and I need you.’ It touches my heart deeply that we could help her reach her goals.”


The final good-bye may be held off for a while longer, though. Newberry said she is working to bring Ka`ai back next semester as a paid staff so she can continue working with the younger students as a tutor, mentor and friend. She added that Ka`ai will likely go to college mid-year.

In honor of the occasion, Aka`ula School founder Harold Hungerford came to Molokai from Kentucky to serve as the commencement speaker. Hungerford is an environmental educator from whom Aka`ula bases its curriculum. He addressed the crowd and Ka`ai, whom he called a very special person.

“I was moved,” Hungerford said of the ceremony. “The emotions were wonderfully positive, but the tears were there. I loved every minute of it.”


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