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‘We’re Dragons; we breathe fire, not air’

<p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>The Class of 2013 reacts to a speech by principal Glenn Gray during the Honokaa High School commencement ceremony Saturday morning in the Honokaa High School Gymnasium.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Jeffany Kamakana O Kalani Derego tries to pull herself through a tunnel of leis after the Honokaa High School commencement ceremony in the Honokaa High School Gymnasium on Saturday morning.</p><p>HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald</p><p>Justin Kawamoto smiles through his leis after the Honokaa High School commencement ceremony in the Honokaa High School Gymnasium on Saturday morning.</p>

Editor’s note: Each year, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald highlights the graduation ceremony at one Big Island school. This year, the newspaper chose Honokaa High & Intermediate School.


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hundreds packed the Honokaa High & Intermediate School gym Saturday morning to honor the 128 graduating members of the high school’s Class of 2013.

The graduates looked splendid, the boys clad in green gowns and mortarboards, and the girls in gold, the Dragons’ school colors. On a stage adorned with balloons in the class colors — hot pink and black — class Vice President Marlon “Jovi” Valencia, expressed optimism for the future.

“We’re Dragons, we breathe fire, not air,” he said. A polished orator for one so young, Valencia also shared a nugget of wisdom with his classmates.

“We never stop growing; we never stop learning,” he said. “We’re never going to be the perfect version of ourselves. But it’s the pursuit of that perfection, not the perfection itself, that’s most important.”

He concluded: “I’m Jov Valencia and I approved this message,” eliciting a tumult of laughter and applause from the audience. Subsequent speakers also invoked the line popularized by political ads.

Another valedictorian, Yvette Nitura, tickled the collective funny bone, as well.

“We’re sitting among our future doctors, engineers, professional athletes and Walmart executives,” she quipped.

Class salutatorian John Padapat, who’s originally from the Philippines, talked about coming to Hawaii as an 8th grader.

“I had a difficult time adjusting, but my classmates and teachers helped me to adjust,” he said. Padapat recalled “many joyful experiences and memories” and concluded that it is “a bit difficult to leave these surroundings.”

“This high school is the foundation of my future,” he said.

The final valdictorian to speak, Amanda Agdeppa, chose to deliver her message in rhyme.

“You’ve lived through the end of the world at least five times since birth/Plus three tsunamis and a four-hour lockdown, I’m surprised we’re still on this Earth,” she said. “… And though we’ve lost some precious friends along with way/They’re still with us at the end of this remarkable journey today.”

One classmate whose memory was honored is Bronson “Duke” De Rego, who died on June 3, 2010, after he fell from the back of a golf cart driven by a 15-year-old girl on Mana Road in Waimea. De Rego, who was 6-feet tall, 245-pounds and a promising football and baseball player, continues to live on, as two men received his donated organs.

Principal Glenn Gray called the class, the first in school history that had to complete a senior project, “a very, very special group of people” who have “shown amazing grit, the John Wayne kind of grit.”

Debbri Ann Sleightholm said she wants “to volunteer at a pre-school.”

“I don’t know which one yet, but I want to go into early childhood development,” she said. Asked if she’d been accepted into any colleges, she replied: “Not yet.”

“My mom said to try this first to see if I like it, so she doesn’t spend too much money on the college.”

Sleightholm said she’s “super, super excited” about the future, but also “nervous.”

“I don’t know how life’s gonna go,” she said, expressing a universal human uncertainty.

Kau‘i Kihe also wants to work with youngsters.

“I want to make my own day care,” she said. “I’m going to an organization called PATCH.”

Keanu Fernandez’s future plans are simple.

“Find one job and party,” he said.

Zachary Piro said he’ll be going to Hawaii Community College to learn to become an electrician. On his future prospects, Piro said, “I don’t know.”

Michael Martinez plans to go first to HCC, then transfer to Hawaii Pacific University in Oahu to do a double major in philosophy and anthropology.

“I think a lot about a lot of things, so I think philosophy is a good fit, and I’m really interested in learning about other people’s cultures,” he said.

Nahe Lau will attend HCC, then plans to finish her schooling at Le Cordon Blue culinary academy in Las Vegas. She’d like to ultimately work at The Fish & The Hog Market Cafe in Waimea. About the future, Lau said she’s “excited, very.”

Kawaipunahele Salazar said she’s also going to go to HCC, and wants to eventually move to Maui.

“I’m excited about being on my own, about being independent,” she said.

Email John Burnett at


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