Waiakea High School grad profiles: Kiani Nishimoto and Felix Peng

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A projected 283 students will graduate Saturday from Waiakea High School. The commencement ceremony begins at 6 p.m. at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium.

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A projected 283 students will graduate Saturday from Waiakea High School. The commencement ceremony begins at 6 p.m. at the Edith Kanaka‘ole Multi-Purpose Stadium.

The following are profiles of two graduating seniors selected by school administrators. This is the second of a six-part series featuring soon-to-be graduates within the Tribune-Herald’s coverage area.

Students in this series are recognized for either overcoming significant hardships and/or for their academic achievements.

Kiani Nishimoto

Kiani Nishimoto still remembers the first time she was tasked to give a speech in high school.

It was the start of her freshman year at Waiakea High School, and she was running for a student government position.

“I was very nervous for it,” recalls Nishimoto, now 17. “I feel like some parts of me are shy, so it took a lot for me to push myself out of my comfort zone.”

Nishimoto has since grown accustomed to giving speeches. She has steadily climbed the ranks of Waiakea’s student leadership, and this year, she served as student body president.

She now addresses her classmates regularly with ease.

“Over time, I gained confidence, and it got better,” Nishimoto said. “And getting to know my classmates over the years helped, too. I definitely think (student leadership) has been a positive thing, and I’ve gained leadership skills, too.”

Nishimoto is graduating Saturday with a 4.0 grade-point average. She’s one of the school’s 14 valedictorians and is headed to the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the fall to study biology. She’s also completed multiple Advanced Placement and Honors courses at Waiakea and is a recipient of UH-Manoa’s Chancellor’s Scholarship, which covers $10,000 in tuition expenses.

Nishimoto is a member of Waiakea’s varsity tennis team and Key Club and has remained heavily involved in student government throughout high school.

Eventually, she wants to attend medical school on the mainland and hopes to become a pediatrician. Someday, she plans to return to Hawaii Island to open her own practice to help mitigate the island’s physician shortage.

“There’s a severe need for doctors in Hawaii, especially in Hilo,” Nishimoto said. “So I do want to come back and help the community and help combat this need for doctors.”

Nishimoto said she strives to be an example to Waiakea’s other students and hopes to demonstrate that hard work pays off.

As a freshman, she never pictured being student body president. She said she decided to run after noticing few other students were interested.

She advises other students striving for success to work hard, study and pay attention in class.

“I do hope to be a role model for our students,” Nishimoto said. “As president, I feel like all eyes are on you a lot of the times. So I try to work my hardest so that when people look at me, they see a good student and someone they can come to when they need help.”

Felix Peng

Felix Peng’s advice to incoming Waiakea High students is simple.

“Try and get yourself out there,” the 17-year-old Peng said. “Join something new. Or try something new like running for (student government) office.”

Peng would know. He’s class president at Waiakea, a position he’s held since sophomore year. He was chairman of homecoming activities his freshman year and has sparred in multiple academic competitions as a member of Waiakea’s LifeSmarts team and World Quest team, to name a few.

But it wasn’t always so. As a young teen, Peng said he was naturally “kind of introverted.” He initially decided to dabble in student leadership to step outside his comfort zone and try a new activity.

Ultimately, he stuck with it.

“I was very much shy at first,” Peng said. “Just the whole leadership (aspect of it). It was kind of a fragmented learning process; there were some things (about student leadership) I had to learn on the spot.”

Peng is graduating Saturday with a 4.3 weighted GPA. He also is Waiakea’s salutatorian. He’s taken 12 Advanced Placement courses at Waiakea and scored mostly “5” (the highest score possible) on the AP exams. He’s also a member of Waiakea’s varsity swim team.

Peng plans to attend Northwestern University in Illinois this fall to study industrial engineering. He said he is naturally drawn to math and science and enjoys working with his hands.

Someday, he hopes to return to Hilo and find a job in industrial engineering — ideally in a leadership role — that allows him to “think freely and creatively and work with other people and try to make the world a better place, bit by bit.”

He said he’s met industrial engineering graduates who found jobs at technology companies and medical and pharmaceutical companies.

“It’s a very wide field,” he said.

Peng encourages other students — even those who think they might be too shy for leadership — to at least give it a try.

“I never thought I’d be where I am as class president,” he said. “It took a lot of learning. But if you put yourself in that new situation, you have to learn, and a lot of times, you end up finding that you like what you’re doing.

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“The more you stick with something, say a sport or class council, the more time you have to learn about it and have those opportunities.”

Email Kirsten Johnson at kjohnson@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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