Saturday, November 28, 2015         

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Waianae grad is headed for Harvard

By Associated Press


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 May 23 at the oceanfront school with a 4.0 grade point average, as one of 11 valedictorians and as the graduation's mistress of ceremonies.

The high school hovers near the bottom of the state Department of Education's performance classification list. Its college enrollment rate last year 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 is uncomfortable with the notion that her acceptance is noteworthy simply because of where she grew up: a 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 among three daughters being 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, Diedre Foster, credits her daughter's success to a competitive nature and an ability to seize opportunities, such as her leadership role in Wai­anae's 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.

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Associated Press

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