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MHS Class of 2021: A Year of Challenges and Firsts

Photo by Mickey Pauole

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

It was the first time a Molokai High School commencement ceremony was held on the football field. The first class to graduate after a full year under pandemic conditions. And graduation represented the first time the class had officially been together all year.

Last Saturday’s graduation ceremony for the school’s 66 seniors was like no other. Though Farmer pride shone through, it was somewhat muted by the strict protocols of a COVID-19 ceremony. Graduates waited for the ceremony to begin in their cars in the parking lot, accompanied by only two attending family members. In a carefully orchestrated and secured process, they entered the football field one by one, sanitizing hands as they walked through the gate, and sat down to face their family members on chairs spaced six feet apart. Masks covered their smiles but not their determination to graduate.

Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol

“Over the last year, everyone’s resolve has been tested,” said MHS Principal Dr. Katina Soares. “I don’t have to tell you all what it’s been like, because you lived it… They have turned tragedy into triumph. These young people made it to this tremendous moment.”

Through a year of mixed virtual and in-person learning in small groups, no competitive sports, no school travel opportunities, and many other limiting factors, the seniors

“It feels so weird addressing you all in person and not in an email,” said valedictorian Mallory Go as she began her graduation speech.

Salutatorian and class president Yheslie Julez Valete described it as “a senior year that pretty much never came.”

“We’ve taken every hardship these last four years have given us and did everything we could to rock the Barn,” she said. “…We did it all while going through a pandemic spending our senior year away from the Barn… If we can survive a mountain of senior deadlines, the ever-changing COVID restrictions and a bombardment of texts from a class group chat, we can overcome any obstacle.”

Valedictorian Kaaipolohiwa Duvauchelle gave her classmates a pat on the back.

“Good job on surviving the excessive classwork and homework you got, trying to cram in a year’s worth of curriculum into a quarter,” she said. “Good job on staying up late till, what… 4 a.m. and still being able to survive the next day. Good job on persevering through school when you’re struggling to adapt with this new system. And major good job for just doing you…”

Soares said “transforming challenge into opportunity” carried them through the year.

“…The butterfly is a symbol of beauty and change, and that depicted our overall theme for Molokai High this year,” said Soares. “COVID-19 required us to reimagine many things, including our education. It has caused us to pause and reassess what is most important to us and redefine what we know as success, both in school and in our daily lives.”

Like other classes before them, the new Molokai alums are going on to attend college, get jobs and other paths.

“As our successes and failures build us into better and mature adults, we should never forget that growth is always possible,” said valedictorian Aaliyah Cariaga. “Whatever we choose do to in life will make a difference but it’s up to us to choose what kind of difference we want to make. It’s always a beautiful day to change someone’s life.”

“Although we all have different interests, personalities, and paths in mind, we have one thing in common: we are the class of 2021,” added fellow valedictorian Reese Raguindin. “We’ve grown up together, and in the past 13 years, we’ve made do many memories. Feeling the buzz of excitement before a May Day performance, hearing the loud cheers at spirit assemblies, talking story in class, traveling off island and spilling the airplane fuel at the Maui Airport, and surviving a virtual senior year together, as a class. These valuable memories keep us connected and will stay with us after we part ways.”

Photo by Catherine Cluett Pactol

Graduates were handed their diplomas at arm’s length. Afterwards, as they walked out across the lawn in single file, they reunited with their two family members for hugs, selfies and shakas to the Akaku livestream camera to friends and family who couldn’t attend. Though no nose-high lei stacks could be bestowed on school grounds, graduates immediately left for family celebrations off campus.

“This year has brought challenge, but you have transformed it into this moment, into your opportunity,” Soares told the Class of 2021. “Seize the opportunity to become a success, a master of something important to you and carry a piece of your family, your community and that Molokai farmer pride in your heart.”

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