Honokaa High School grad profiles: Skyla Lee and Romilly Benedict

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About 130 students are projected to graduate from Honokaa High School on Saturday. The commencement ceremony begins at 10 a.m. in the Honokaa Gym.


About 130 students are projected to graduate from Honokaa High School on Saturday. The commencement ceremony begins at 10 a.m. in the Honokaa Gym.

The following are profiles of two graduating seniors selected by school administrators. This is the fifth of six articles 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.

Skyla Lee

Skyla Lee has a message for other students facing health problems: Don’t give up.

Lee would know.

In 2013, she was diagnosed with lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease with no known cure.

“It was a challenge for the first few years,” Lee, now 18, recalls. “The first year, actually, I was really against taking medication and cooperating with the whole thing. Because I kind of didn’t want to believe it. Because of that, I didn’t go to school much. And when I did, I didn’t really do much. So my grades kind of took one for the team, in that aspect. I just couldn’t and I didn’t really have the motivation to at that point.”

With time, Lee said she gradually came to accept the diagnosis. Now, she wants to use her medical challenges to help others.

Lee graduates Saturday from Honokaa High School with straight A’s. In April, she was one of two students from Hawaii selected to compete in the National Academic Decathlon in Madison, Wis., where she earned a silver medal.

She also is an active member of the Waimea Community Theater &Chorus and Honokaa High’s jazz band. She was even selected to play piano during Honokaa’s commencement and sing the national anthem.

In the fall, Lee plans to attend the University of Hawaii at Hilo to study pharmacy. She received multiple scholarships, including the UH-Hilo Chancellor’s Scholarship.

Eventually, she wants to achieve a doctorate in pharmacy. Ultimately, she hopes to forge a career conducting research to help find possible cures for autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

“I really hope to find (a cure) that will help some of the people I’ve met,” Lee said. “I’m the healthiest I’ve been since I was diagnosed, but I still see people I know who are struggling with their health. So, I hope to be able to impact not only the community, but the entire population.”

Lee also is a Make-A-Wish recipient. As a recipient, she flew to New York last summer to record a song with Downtown Music Studios.

“It was a really cool experience because I got to work with actual musicians, write a song and record it,” she said. “It was really surreal.”

She credits her mom for supporting her most. And she said she hopes to be a role model for others.

“I hope that other kids, especially struggling with health issues, don’t just give up as I had,” she said. “It’s an easy thing to do when you’re faced with something that’s kind of daunting. When you’re in the moment and dealing with those struggles, it seems like the hardest thing to possibly do — keep going and keep working.

“But it really pays off in the end to find something you do want to do and pursue for the rest of your life. It’s not always the end of the world, when the end of the world happens.”

Romilly Benedict

Romilly Benedict was a junior at Honokaa High when she first took an environmental science course.

She’s been interested in the subject ever since.

“I suppose I just saw how many (environmental) problems the world has,” the 18-year-old Honokaa High School senior said. “But I also saw there were a lot of solutions to them that people were pursuing. It made me interested, and, I suppose, I wanted to help solve a lot of the problems. Because they sounded really serious — (for example) pollution.”

Benedict will graduate Saturday from Honokaa High with straight A’s. She is the school’s only Advanced Placement Academic Scholar, a national recognition she achieved because she earned a top score of five on five of the six AP courses she completed.

She holds multiple medals as part of the school’s Academic Decathlon team. She also was one of two Honokaa High School students who took part in the National Academic Decathlon competition, which was hosted in April in Madison, Wis.

“It was really exciting, just to be there at a national competition,” she recalls.

“Especially one so far away from everything we knew.”

In the fall, Benedict is headed to George Mason University in Virginia to study chemistry, with a concentration in environmental and analytical chemistry.

She received multiple scholarships to attend the university, including one scholarship award for $12,000 per year from the Virginia school itself.

She’s keeping her future career options open, and she has mulled going to graduate school and is interested in forging a career on the mainland.

She said her degree is applicable for a variety of jobs.

For example, she could find a position “checking the chemistry of various areas to see if they’re polluted” or a job which entails “making sure new chemicals on the market are environmentally safe.”

Benedict credits her father, an instrument specialist at the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope, for fostering her interest in learning.

“He’s encouraged me to love everything,” she said. “He’s always encouraged me to do really well in school and pursue my dreams.”

Benedict encourages other students who are striving for success to believe in themselves and start planning career and college options early on.

“And work hard,” she added. “Really take difficult AP classes because they really will help prepare you for college.


“And just do your best.”

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

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