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Waianae High student bound for Harvard; 1st since 1980

By Jennifer Sinco Kelleher

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 02:05 p.m. HST, May 26, 2014

In his 12 years as a counselor at Waianae High School, Shane Nakamura never heard of any student getting into an Ivy League university, let alone even applying to one.

So when Harvard University accepted Kahunui Foster, Nakamura felt like he and all of Waianae -- one of Hawaii's poorest communities -- gained acceptance into the prestigious institution, too.

"This is huge," he said. "We are all kind of blown away."

Foster, 18, will be the first from Waianae High to attend Harvard since 1980, according to the college's registrar's office.

Foster graduated Friday night at the oceanfront school with a 4.0 grade point average, as one of 11 valedictorians and as the graduation's master of ceremonies.

The high school hovers near the bottom of the state Department of Education's performance classification list. Last year's college enrollment rate was 36 percent, compared with 54 percent statewide.

"For Waianae, this should be a celebration because it means our kids can do it," Nakamura said. "I got a kid going to Harvard -- and that could be you, too."

Foster seems uncomfortable with the notion that her acceptance is noteworthy simply because of where she grew up: a small west Oahu town rich in heritage and pride that's home to families of modest means.

"For anybody, it's a big accomplishment," she said. "It's not dependent on where you're from."

Going to college was never a question for Foster, who attended Maili Elementary and Waianae Intermediate. But when she scored a composite of 29 on her ACT out of a possible 36, she thought she had a shot at the Ivy League.

"I knew with my grades, extracurriculars and financial background, that my resume looked good," she said. "I'm Native Hawaiian as well."

But for the middle child of three daughters, raised by a single mother, Foster knew it wasn't enough to simply get into an impressive school. She'll be able to attend Harvard because students from families who earn less than $65,000 a year don't have to pay any tuition.

Her mother, Deidre Foster, credits her daughter's success to a competitive nature and an ability to seize opportunities, such as her leadership role in Waianae's famed media program, Searider Productions.

"She doesn't like anyone feeling sorry for her," the mother said. "She wants it to be on merit."

Foster's future at Harvard comes as Waianae tries to increase its college enrollment rate.

"In Waianae, we're struggling with getting kids to even entertain the idea of college," Nakamura said. The Searider Productions students are in a "school within a school" that makes applying to colleges a requirement, and this year 92 out of 93 students were accepted to a two- or four-year college, Nakamura said.

But whether those students step foot on a college campus is often out of Waianae teachers' control.

Foster is happy to inspire students to pursue college. Now that she's acquired the nickname of "Harvard" around Waianae, underclassmen have been asking for advice on the college application process.

"That's more than I ever thought I'd ever do for anybody," she said.

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Waianae grad is headed for Harvard

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thepartyfirst wrote:
Wai'anae, one of Hawaii's one poorest communities is also one of the most Hawaiian populated areas. Every year the politicians talk about more jobs, more opportunities for the community, better future for the keikis, etc. etc. And what do the politicians do? Nothing. What's all this talk of hope and change? At one time everything belonged to the Hawaiians. Tell me, who benefited the most from the "overthrow" of the Hawaiian Kingdom?
on May 23,2014 | 02:13PM
inverse wrote:
That is not accurate. King Kamehameha ruled with an iron fist and owned EVERYTHING. Unless someone living today can claim lineage to King Kamehameha then chances are they owned nothing are merely were serfs to the King. It was King Kamehameha descendants who tended to intermarry the Caucasian foreigners and most of those have classroom buildings named after them. Would think Hawaiians want to progress like this young woman and get an education an a "caucasian" based school and come back to Hawaii and be a part of the system to make it better. Why would Hawaiians of today want to be ruled again by another group of kings and queens such as what OHA wants in sovereignty? Former KSBE trustees had the power and made themselves another ruling class and how did that work out?
on May 23,2014 | 04:33PM
inverse wrote:
ps: ...most of those have Puna ho classroom buildings named after them....
on May 23,2014 | 04:34PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
You miss the point of the article, hawaiian haters never miss an opportunity to be critical of anything hawaiian.
on May 23,2014 | 06:49PM
holokanaka wrote:
Does this I.d.i.o.t inverse know anything, "anything at all" about the true political and legal history of these Islands and the internationally recognized sovereign nation of the Hawaiian Kingdom????--------ANYTHING????
on May 23,2014 | 08:08PM
inverse wrote:
True story. My public high school social studies teacher was supposed to teach our class world history, however she was native Hawaiian and she decided on her own to change the curriculum to ONLY Hawaiian history. Spent one whole year in high school learning Hawaiian history. Actually payed attention in class and learned quite a lot of Hawaiian history from a woman very passionate about the subject.
on May 24,2014 | 06:35AM
holokanaka wrote:
If your story is true I take back everything bad I said about you. Out of curiosity a couple of questions: what year was this class, what school was this and name of the teacher?
on May 24,2014 | 07:29AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Congrats Kahunui Foster. Others read the Hawaiian and Waianae and go into automatic attack mode. Such a pity. Who are these people. Good luck at Harvard.
on May 24,2014 | 08:25AM
holokanaka wrote:
Got to ditto Nanakuli's post.
on May 24,2014 | 08:45AM
cojef wrote:
Me to just like holokanak's post, second it. Best wishes and know she will make it, cuz she's got grit.
on May 24,2014 | 04:33PM
Papakolea wrote:
The hope is in shining stars like Kahunui Foster, a Native Hawaiian who will succeed through her hard work and determination.
on May 23,2014 | 04:50PM
sak wrote:
Would you like some cheese with your whine?
on May 23,2014 | 05:13PM
Skyler wrote:
on May 23,2014 | 05:38PM
Anonymous wrote:
Reply to "thepartyfirst".....What do our elected officials have to do w/ this ??? This story is a great example of how it's done. Apparently you are the type of person who only wants "handouts". I say this...this 18 yr old is an impressive young lady who is not just a credit to Waianae HS, the community of Waianae, all native Hawaiians but a living example of how it's done. If she can do why can't the kid next door or down the street or in Makaha or Nanakuli. It starts at home w/ parental upbringing. Politicians & teachers don't raise your kid...YOU DO !!!!!
on May 23,2014 | 06:59PM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
Congratulations and best wishes to Kahunui Foster, and to her mother, and to Wai'anae High School which provided the education for her to get into Harvard. The opportunity is clearly there for those who have the intelligence and self-discipline to make use of it. Kulia i ka nu'u. Imua.
on May 23,2014 | 07:45PM
FrankieT wrote:
Hey, thepartyfirst, that has nothing to do with this young lady being accepted to Harvard. Something good happens and what do you do...... complain instead of wishing her well. Go crawl back in to whatever political hole you came from
on May 23,2014 | 09:48PM
hikine wrote:
Unless you were one of the royal lineage or Ali'i common Hawaiians didn't own anything! Everything belonged to the King and it's royal court! Basically common folks didn't loose anything because they didn't own anything in the first place!
on May 24,2014 | 01:24AM
niimi wrote:
The Hawaiians benefited most from the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom lest they still be in a backward society with little progress and oppressive leadership.
on May 24,2014 | 03:37AM
boolakanaka wrote:
Kudos!! E kamau iho i ka hoe!
on May 23,2014 | 02:14PM
h20dragon wrote:
Congratulations to a great representative of the Waianae Coast! Congratulations for your past accomplishments and best wishes on your successes to come!
on May 23,2014 | 02:26PM
noheawilli wrote:
Awesome! Congrats and I hope this is the start of many more greats things coming out of the west side. Well Done.
on May 23,2014 | 02:32PM
fshnpoi wrote:
noheawilli glad that you find this young ladies accomplishment to be awesome! but please understand, many great things have been coming out of the "west side" way before this and will continue too.. ho'omaikai kahunui.
on May 24,2014 | 02:32AM
Kahunui as well as the Foster ohana, congratulations on this superlative achievement! Best of luck in college.
on May 23,2014 | 02:32PM
niimi wrote:
Terrific news, and I hope she thrives and prospers!
on May 23,2014 | 04:03PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
Agree! But don't rest on your laurels! Work hard and fight for your rights! Oh PS: read this last week's issue of the New York Times magazine which has an article about how to survive when you find yourself suddenly among rich affluent kids with their noses turned up! Do try to get that issue.
on May 23,2014 | 05:01PM
BigBird001 wrote:
Don't know if this is the article you are referring to, but I wish I'd had it when I was going to college. Survived it, got a Bachelor's and Masters. Experience was definitely more fun when i "got it". http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/18/magazine/who-gets-to-graduate.html?ref=magazine&_r=0
on May 24,2014 | 01:54AM
niimi wrote:
I agree with parts of the article, and I disagree with parts of the article. I went to college unprepared, and I initially faltered. THAT'S ON ME, NOT ON THE SYSTEM. By college age I was an adult, and felt wholeheartedly deserving to be treated like one. Well, then I had to accept the consequences of my actions. HS was easy, so I thought the same of college. It wasn't. I had to learn to be more efficient in my learning, to speak up and ask questions. It's not about rich kids or poor kids, for I saw as many rich kids falter because they were also lazy or inefficient at learning. Besides, once you graduate and move in to real life there is no room to hide. The real working world exposes your flaws for all the world to see. And no, life isn't fair, and it is competitive, and there are bullies. Well, blame your school system for sheltering you from what the real world is like and not letting you learn those skills along the way. And that 14th place trophy you got didn't help your desire to be more competitive, either. In life there are winners and losers, so you choose. It definitely does not mean you have to be a jerk along the way; hardly. But life is what you make of it, not what becomes of it. Be empowered, not powerless.
on May 24,2014 | 03:36AM
Papakolea wrote:
Great job, Kahunui!! We're all very proud of you!
on May 23,2014 | 04:46PM
2disgusted2 wrote:
VERY good for her! Congratualtions! Proud of you, even though I don't know you!
on May 23,2014 | 04:58PM
boolakanaka wrote:
Where is my comment?
on May 23,2014 | 05:28PM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
I see it right there. ^ Congratulations on finally making a good one.
on May 23,2014 | 07:51PM
boolakanaka wrote:
Because we have different vantages, does not mean we have similar intentions.
on May 23,2014 | 08:02PM
MakaniKai wrote:
And she accomplished this on her own..........with support of course. 'Nuff said. Congratulations Miss Kahunui Foster
on May 23,2014 | 05:52PM
totorolab wrote:
Congratulations to Kahunui. Her perseverance has been rewarded. She must really be special, because a ton of applicants who are valedictorians and have high test scores do not gain admission to Harvard. We can all be proud of this keiki o ka aina. BTW, the Waianae High graduate who was admitted to Harvard in 1980 is a friend of mine - Randy Petilos. He graduated from Harvard and later obtained a masters degree from the University of Chicago. The future is bright for Kahunui.
on May 23,2014 | 05:54PM
kk808 wrote:
Congratulations and best of luck to you.
on May 23,2014 | 06:13PM
saywhatyouthink wrote:
I admire this girl ... to her it makes no difference where you come from but what you do. With that attitude and work ethic, she'll go far for sure. Congrats and good luck.
on May 23,2014 | 06:37PM
bodysurf_ah wrote:
Finally!, a good story from the Star-Advertiser. Great job Ms. Foster!
on May 23,2014 | 06:56PM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Miss Kahunui Foster, Congratulations for being an outstanding person and student. It will be a difficult challenge on the East Coast, but take one day at a time as you have at Waianae High School and you will succeed. Again, reach for the Star.
on May 23,2014 | 07:32PM
Anonymous wrote:
To "kuroiwaj"...Waianae is on the West side of the island not East side
on May 24,2014 | 07:44AM
kuroiwaj wrote:
Anonymous, Miss Foster is attending Harvard, not Waianae. I had three family members grad from East Coast colleges, from Boston, Rutgers, and Notre Dame. The first year is always difficult being away from Hawaii and home. But, there is the Hawaii Club. Study first, play second.
on May 24,2014 | 10:51AM
FrankieT wrote:
Wow! that is great, you made Waianae proud
on May 23,2014 | 09:46PM
aloha4aq wrote:
Congratulations. You have made not only your mother and your school proud, but all of Hawaii! Our daughter-in-law is a Waianae High graduate, too, and has had a successful career as a nurse. Best wishes for a successful four years matriculating at Harvard. WOW!
on May 23,2014 | 10:23PM
primowarrior wrote:
Congrats to Kahunui! Hers is the kind of feel good story that gives hope to a lot of kids that hard work, hard study, and a commitment to your goals are the path to success in life.
on May 23,2014 | 11:04PM
hikine wrote:
I'm glad for her but it makes the other students kind of ehhhh, 1980 was the last time? Something is wrong here.
on May 24,2014 | 01:20AM
Hapa_Haole_Boy wrote:
Congrats Miss!!! Very good job.
on May 24,2014 | 01:22AM
HAJAA1 wrote:
Go get'em girl! Another success for the state of Hawaii.
on May 24,2014 | 01:23AM
AniMatsuri wrote:
I seem to remember there was someone in the Waianae High class of '83 that was excepted into Yale.
on May 24,2014 | 01:38AM
whs1966 wrote:
I echo thepartyfirst's sentiments, but political signs abound on the Wai`anae Coast. With rare exception, our elected "leaders" have pandered to the people of the coast but done little for them. Shameful! I am, however, happy for Kahanui Foster. She sets a standard for other Seariders to emulate. As the school's motto says, "Imua Makou o Wai`anae."
on May 24,2014 | 05:02AM
Anonymous wrote:
To "whs1966"...are you another one who brings kids into this world and expects politicians and teachers to raise them for you ????? "thepartyfirst" sentiments are an example of that. Ms. Foster did this on her own and I sure my kids turn out like her; I'll do everything possible to give them that chance.
on May 24,2014 | 07:47AM
Ipo_Mom wrote:
Hope the Star Advertiser does not forget this rising star when she leaves for college. Having her submit a column from time to time for others to learn about her impressions of life at Harvard could be extremely interesting.... I'd read it! Great job, sista!
on May 24,2014 | 05:38AM
Anonymous wrote:
Great idea...I'd read it as well...
on May 24,2014 | 07:47AM
Wage Earner wrote:
With the many comments and the huge effect of this story, hopefully local media sees that we want more of these type of good stories. Thank you!!!
on May 24,2014 | 06:29AM
boolakanaka wrote:
Congrats to the fine young lady!!! What both parents and students should know, is that if they have grades and scores, public school kids have a much better chance in obtaining acceptance at Ivy plus schools (ivies plus, MIT, Stanford, U Chicago..etc) than do private school kids. Like most elite institutions, they want to have diversity reflected in attendance by private and public high school. Since, many public high schools ofter serve lower income levels, this students are very highly recruited, and often, make much better impressions to admission committees than many of the "packaged" private school kids. Moreover, it most every instance, going to a Ivy-plus school, will be much cheaper than attending most any state institution. To explain, even though costs, tuition and room & board, at a place like Harvard and Yale exceed, 60,000, these schools have no loans, and all is aid comes in the form of grant aid. So, as mentioned, if your family income was 75K annually, you would pay absolutely nothing, and at about 110K, annually, your out of pocket would be close to 6-7K.. Oh, Harvard also has a class in front of her, a young man from Moloka'i High School. Big props to my ohana Stanford Ha'o, principal for the farmers!!! Go public schools!!!!
on May 24,2014 | 06:38AM
boolakanaka wrote:
where are my comments SA?
on May 24,2014 | 06:39AM
Ken_Conklin wrote:
boola, I see your comment directly above here ^^ Looks good to me, one of the best you ever made. Congratulations!
on May 24,2014 | 11:53AM
boolakanaka wrote:
LOL--as they say in China, even a drunk cat bumps into mouse, every once in a while.
on May 24,2014 | 12:57PM
eastside808 wrote:
Go Girl!!! There is no ceiling for you.
on May 24,2014 | 08:15AM
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