Former governor reminds grads to be thankful

  • STEPHANIE SALMONS/Hawaii Tribune-Herald Former Hawaii Gov. John Waihe‘e, who was born and raised in Honokaa, spoke Thursday at the Honokaa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple's 65th annual baccalaureate service.

It was a night of thanks Thursday at the Honokaa Hongwanji Buddhist Temple as high school graduates past and present gathered for the temple’s 65th annual baccalaureate service.

With a theme of “Re-paying it Backward,” nearly a dozen of the community’s graduating seniors paid homage to teachers who inspired and encouraged their education.

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Former Gov. John Waihe‘e, who was born and raised in Honokaa and served as governor from 1986-94, was the baccalaureate’s guest speaker, sometimes drawing hearty laughs from the crowd of more than 50 as he discussed his childhood in Honokaa, returning to his hometown and the power of gratitude.

Often, Waihe‘e said, many don’t understand the power of intent.

“The power of anything comes from, I believe, the way it’s said,” he said. “If you’re going to tell someone thank you, say it like you mean it.”

When you say “thank you,” Waihe‘e said, the person receiving the thanks can feel it — the speaker can feel it, too.

“See, we benefit by acknowledging somebody else. We benefit by acknowledging somebody else,” he said. “There’s an old saying that says ‘enough is a feast.’ You see, when we are thankful for what we have, that is the foundation of happiness.”

As he concluded his nearly 15-minute address, Waihe‘e turned talk to the word “mahalo.”

“The Hawaiian word for ‘thank you,’ which the class of 2019 quickly answered, was mahalo,” he said.

But meanings can get lost in translation.

“Because in the concept of ‘mahalo,’ it’s not just a sense of gratitude, it’s a sense of admiration,” Waihe‘e said. “It’s a way of saying I admire you, I respect you. It’s a much deeper meaning.

“So I wanted to tell all of you how grateful I am that you made it possible for me to be here in Honokaa tonight. I want to tell every single person here how much I respect your commitment to come out here and do something for the students of Honokaa. And I want to tell the class of 2019 how much I admire you — for the dreams that you have to make your town, your island, your state a better place. Mahalo.”

After Waihe‘e’s address, graduating students recognized teachers who made an impact on their lives.

Jack Friend, 18, a home-schooled student who’s graduating, thanked his grandmother, an elementary school teacher who died more than a year ago.

“She taught me when I was first-grade all the way through sixth grade,” he said before the program. “(She was) really an essential part of my life.”

Being able to share his gratitude publicly is “awesome.”

“I’m glad to take advantage of an opportunity to give thanks,” Friend said.

“Outside of all the math homework, she taught me to keep my word and to be honest. She always looked out for me, she always knew what was best,” he told the crowd. “She almost always saw the best in me.”

Daycie De Luz, 17, who is graduating from Honokaa High School, thanked two teachers — her art teacher, Doug McDowell, and social studies teacher Daniel Lewer.

“They have just done so much for me the past three years,” De Luz said. “I came to Honokaa in 10th grade, and they’ve been such a huge help, and they’ve made such a huge impact on my life, not just in the classroom, but outside of it, too. They are not only interested in me learning their curriculum, but me growing as a person.

“I’m really interested in art and wanting to pursue that, and so they’ve encouraged in ways I can’t even begin to say how grateful I am for,” she continued. “… They’ve supported me emotionally and mentally in ways I can’t even begin to thank them for. It’s like they have become an extended part of my family and they (have) huge roles in my life. I just wanted to show thank you. Even saying ‘thank you’ is not enough for everything that they have done for me.”

Being able to recognize her teachers Thursday meant “so much,” De Luz said.

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“We’ve done this for about five years now,” said temple president Miles Okumura, who organized the event. “It’s just a very common Buddhist theme of gratitude. Grown-ups always want kids to understand that, to reflect. They’re so happy to graduate, but all the grown-ups (say) ‘come on, what about your teachers and your parents and your mentors and your family?’ So it’s a valuable lesson. … It’s a really good exercise for them to say thank you. It’s really touching, their messages to the teachers. It’s just so sweet.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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