Graduation Ceremonies Mark the BeginningThis past month, over a thousand high school Seniors in the County of Maui marched to Pomp and Circumstance, a song composed in 1901, with lyrics written in 1902 to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII of England. So yes, there are lyrics:
Dear Land of Hope, thy hope is crowned.
God make thee mightier yet!
On Sov’reign brows, beloved, renowned,
Once more thy crown is set.
Thine equal laws, by
Have ruled thee well
By Freedom gained, by
Thine Empire shall be strong.
As the high school graduates processed in, with their families and friends beaming with pride, their minds were certainly not on the usually unsung lyrics but probably on getting lei, graduation parties or Project Graduation lock-in, enlisting in the military, joining the work force, or continuing their formal post high school education.
While the graduates listened to the remarks, including the valedictory speeches, and sang their class song with one voice, you could sense relief but also a realization that this was just the beginning of many more hours of study. After all, they’re called Commencement Exercises. In a 16-page special supplement, The Maui News listed sixteen commencement exercises in Maui County, complete with a list of all graduates and those receiving academic honors.
The highest academic honor is the designation of Valedictorian. Most Hawai‘i public high schools designate every student with at least a 4.0 cumulative grade point average as a valedictorian… and there were many valedictorians this year. But usually the student with the highest grade point average delivers the Valedictory speech.
Henry Perrine Baldwin High School recognized twenty-one valedictorians, with eight of them of Filipino ancestry: Raisa Bermudez, Romar DeCastro, Dillon Gasmen, Noah Magbual, Kimberly Marcelo, Nicole Matsui, Creselle Morales, and Denise Torres.
The honor of the Valedictory speech belonged to Noah Magbual, who also served as class president. After giving thanks to his teachers, counselors, friends, and fellow classmates, Magbual gave thanks to his family: “Most of all, I’ve got to thank my family, both near and far. My mom, dad, sister and aunty are all in the audience today. You’ve all had to put up with my endless demands over the years, and yet you did everything in your power to make sure that education was my first priority. Thank you. To my Grandma: I will never forget how you packed up everything you owned and left your life behind to move from the Philippines to Maui all those years ago. You helped raise me while my parents worked late night shifts. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Magbual is the son of Arnold and Marjorie Magbual, the owners of Four Sisters Bakery in Wailuku, and the grandson of Estanislao and Rufina Magbual, who started the bakery in 1983.
The immigration of the Magbual family to Hawai‘i is typical of many other Filipino families. Estanislao Magbual (who later Americanized his name to Stanley when he became a U.S. citizen) was petitioned by his sister Juana Cajigal and arrived on Maui in January 1979. His wife Rufina and their eight single children: Rogelio, Elizabeth, Milagros, Melen, Arnold, Ederlina, Jovy, and Jay arrived in November 1980. (Son Ferdinand who was adopted by Juana Cajigal arrived in 1968 while son Rene arrived in 1979 and son Eduardo arrived in 1997.)
Many of the Magbual children would work in the sugar and tourism industries while Stanley would venture into the business world, selling his famous pan de sal and ensamada, initially from their home and later at the bakery on Vineyard Street.
The importance of his family was not lost on the younger Magbual as he addressed his classmates. “Like many of you, I don’t know where I’d be without my family. When I was growing up, it was actually my extended family who noticed that I was not a typical kid.” Magbual told the story how he wrote in his first grade memory book that he wanted to be a valedictorian (although he did misspell the word.)
But home was paramount to Magbual—wherever it was and in whatever concept the idea of home was. Magbual told his classmates that “as long as you have a home to find comfort in, there is no telling how far you can go. And remember, you’ll always have a home with the people you’re sitting with on this very field right now.”
Magbual, who will be attending Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, plans to major in Biochemistry/Human Biology and become a medical doctor. Knowing full well what lies ahead, Magbual told his classmates: “I challenge you to find what makes you shine in life. Be resilient. Overcome hardships. Build a home for yourself that makes you feel unexplainable joy and happiness, and pushes you to fulfill your purpose.”
Magbual’s fellow Baldwin High School valedictorians of Filipino ancestry will definitely be challenged along the way: Raisa Bermudez will attend the Unviersity of Washington, Romar DeCastro will attend the University of Puget Sound in Washington, Dillon Gasmen will attend Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona, Kimberly Marcelo will attend the University of Portland in Oregon, Nicole Matsui and Creselle Morales will both attend the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, while Denise Torres will attend Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
The challenges will not only be academic but financial as well. Tuition alone (not including housing, books, food, etc.) at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa for full-time undergraduate students is almost $11,000.00 per year. The University of Washington estimates almost $50,000.00 for out-of-state residents’ tuition, fees, housing, food, books, and personal expenses. Creighton University estimates the total costs to be over $53,000.00 while Stanford University will cost the Magbuals over $60,000.00 each year.
Luckily, the Baldwin High School valedictorians received scholarships from their respective universities as well as the Elks National Foundation, Ernie Sherill, Foodland Shop for Higher Education, Hawai‘i Rotary Youth Foundation, Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Na Ho‘okama, Passing it Forward, Roman Shaffel S.J., and Takeo & Joan Shibuya Scholarships.
At its graduation ceremonies, new Maui High School principal Jamie Yap announced that the Class of 2017 was awarded over $15 million dollars in scholarships—a record at the school.
Maui High School set another record in bestowing of thirty valedictorians—the most in the entire State of Hawai‘i. Of those thirty, fifteen are of Filipino ancestry: Shaye L.N. Acopan, Roxanne Kate Agtang, Jamaica L. Aquino, Jett R. Bolusan, Courtney R. Cadiz, Danny S. Domingo, Florimae S. Garcia, Sheena Marie G. Garo, Renezel M. Lagran, Dylan K. Manibog, Summer B. Montehermoso, Braiden E. Paa, Jordyn S. Paa, Nathalya K. Yadao, and Nicole O. Yuzon.
Some Maui High School valedictorians appear to be headed towards the health fields: Acopan, Aquino and Yuzon will study Nursing at the University of Portland, the University of Hawai‘i Maui College, and the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa, respectively while Garo will study Radiology Technology at Kapi‘olani Community College.
At least six of Maui High School’s valedictorians will matriculate at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College: Agtang, Aquino, Balanay, Lagran, Montehermoso, and Yadao while the Paa twins (Braiden will major in Applied Mathematics and Jordyn will enroll in the School of Travel Industry Management) and Domingo (also majoring in Travel Industry Management) will join Yuzon at UH Mänoa.
Bolusan will major in Mechanical Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Cadiz will major in Computer Science at the University of Portland, Garcia will major in Music & Education at Western Washington University, and Manibog will major in computer engineering at George Fox University in Oregon.
Many Maui High School valedictorians spoke of the challenges they faced to maintain their 4.0 grade point average. According to Acopan, “The most challenging part of maintaining my academic standing was finding the perfect balance between my extracurricular activities and all of my course work” while Domingo said “The challenging part of maintaining my grades was finding the time to study between band and extracurriculars. It took some late hours, intense focus and determination.”
Yadao also faced the challenge of balance: “Trying to balance seven classes, managing deadlines and time, lack of sleep whenever I have a lot to do” while Garo said it was difficult to be involved in extracurricular activities and be a dual enrollment student at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College: “Taking AP classes, college courses at UHMC and volunteering at health care facilities definitely takes a lot of dedication and patience.”
Despite these challenges, Maui High School valedictorians of Filipino ancestry received scholarships from their universities: the Dr. Inouye & Dr. Baum Foundation, as well as Auriol Flavell Student Scholarship for Young Musicians, Binhi at Ani, Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Hawai‘i Foundation, Filipino Women’s League Community, Foodland Shop for Higher Education, HC&S, Hawai‘i Alpha Delta Kappa Gamma Chapter, James M. Kidoguchi, Longs Drugs, Maui AJA Veterans, Inc. & Maui’s Sons and Daughters of the Nisei Veterans, Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Maui High School Foundation, Michael H. Lyons II Memorial, and Touch for Peace.
While Maui High School had the most valedictorians of Filipino ancestry, King Kekaulike High School boasted fifteen valedictorians, of which eight are of Filipino ancestry: Emi Abe, Alenette Ballesteros, Jaelyn Domingo, Claire Gragas, Eleu Higa, Ian Martins, Alona Sabugo, and Alexus Yoro.
Abe will enroll in Western Washington University, Ballesteros will study Political Science at Colorado College, Domingo will study Computer Science at California Polytechnic State University, Gragas will study International Business at Pacific University in Oregon, Higa will study Business Management at Warner Pacific in Oregon, Martins will study Business/entrepreneurship at Hiram College in Ohio, Sabugo will study Nursing at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College, and Yoro will study Optometry at the University of Hawai‘i Maui College.
Other valedictorians of Filipino ancestry include Shania Abut (Lahainaluna High School) who will enroll at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Alexa Narayan (Maui Preparatory Academy) who will enroll at Duke University, and Krystal Yagyagan (Lahainaluna High School).
As these high school valedictorians of Filipino ancestry begin their next journey, some have offered words of advice. “My advice would be to keep working hard no matter how bad you feel like giving up and surround yourself with friends who motivate you to do better” said Danny Domingo. Nathalya Yadao had words of advice for next year’s graduates: “I advise them to make the best of their senior year. Get involved with school activities, try something new, and plan for the future. And don’t procrastinate because that gets you nowhere.”
Sheena Garo, who enrolled at UHMC to get an early start on her college courses, also provided advice to the Class of 2018: “For next year’s graduates, I recommend getting your ACT and SAT testing done by the first semester of your Senior year. Start visiting your desired colleges over the summer, and apply for scholarships as soon as they are available. Make good friends with your college counselor as they will give you great tips and guidance towards obtaining a successful plan for your future. As long as you can put your heart and mind into it, nothing is impossible for you to achieve.”
Indeed, with the commitment to do your best, nothing is impossible.
The Fil-Am Voice congratulates the Class of 2017, especially the valedictorians of Filipino ancestry. Good luck in your future studies and always remember that Maui is home and will be waiting for you.