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How 10 Hawaii seniors cope with graduation from a distance

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM
                                After graduating from James B. Castle High School, Austin Yoshida is planning to go to Long Island University Post (in New York) and major in musical theater.

    CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    After graduating from James B. Castle High School, Austin Yoshida is planning to go to Long Island University Post (in New York) and major in musical theater.

The “stay at home” and social distancing policies made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic have hit Hawaii’s graduating high school seniors in ways that only the students and their families can fully appreciate: Carlee Kasadate, one of the valedictorians from James B. Castle High School’s Class of 2020, won’t have the honor of speaking to her classmates and their families and friends; Mililani High School senior Ariana Kashimoto was set to star as Kim — her “dream role” — in her school’s spring production of “Miss Saigon” in April, which was canceled; Kamehameha Schools sent Kalani Beale and all its other boarding students home to their families; Beale is in California with his parents for the duration.

Here’s how Kasadate, Kashimoto, Beale and seven other graduating seniors are dealing with the disruption of their plans for graduation.


Name: Kalani Beale

Age: 18

School: Kamehameha Schools

Plans after high school: Major in computer science and informatics at the University of Hawaii-Hilo — eventually to mix technology and Hawaiian traditions and build a homestead community on the Big Island.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: I have just been going with the flow of isolation and staying at home with the hope my efforts and those around me are enough for this pandemic to blow over.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: I miss the fact that my mom and dad won’t be able to see me walk across the stage after all the years of sacrifice and hard work. I also miss not being to complete a milestone with so many of my friends.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: I planned on having my graduation party in Hawaii with all my family.

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: The best thing about not having a graduation ceremony and this whole pandemic is I get to finish my last days of high school distance-learning with my family, which is something I’ve always wanted.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: The first thing I want to do once this pandemic is over is go to back to Hawaii to celebrate with all my friends.


Name: Sayaka Brown

Age: 17

School: Kalani High School, valedictorian

Plans after high school: Go to the University of Hawaii at Manoa on a scholarship.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: I spend almost all my time at home, except when I run out to grab groceries or some lunch. I’ve been spending a lot of time with my sister and she kind of keeps me company when I’m bored. I’ve been taking ballet classes as virtual ballet classes which has definitely has been interesting, and I’m a member of the leadership team at Kalani and we’ve been working really hard to create a senior send-off video as well as virtual activities for students to participate in to feel a little bit connected. It’s definitely a very unique situation that I know that a lot of us as seniors really haven’t encountered before, but it’s definitely a experience that we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: What I miss most is I won’t be able to have the last moment in Stan Sheriff (Center) with the rest of my peers. We won’t get to sing our class song or alma mater together. And although we do have a virtual graduation being planned, it won’t be the same as seeing everyone together in their caps and gowns, and hearing the cheers from the audience.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: I didn’t have anything specifically planned, but I did really look forward to our ceremony.

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: I like to think that through this experience it will be a lesson to all of us in that all of us as seniors will come out of these experiences stronger. And although we won’t get that same ceremony experience as other classes at Kalani, or other schools around the state and the world, it also just gives us a chance to remember the importance of gratitude and that this isn’t really the end of our journey. This virus is just an obstacle that we’ll still be able to overcome together.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: I definitely hope to go out and see the friends that I haven’t seen for weeks. I do want to go back to Kalani and visit all my teachers and thank them for everything that they’ve done throughout my four years there. And I really just want to be able to go outside again after being stuck at home for so long.


Name: Keith Kryzzler Cabbab

Age: 18

School: W.R. Farrington High School

Plans after high school: I’m going to attend Windward Community College and pursue musical theater.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: It’s been super hard. I’m very much an outside person. I miss my friends very much. To be honest I even miss school!

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: Almost suffocating from leis!

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: We were going to have nice little party with my friends and family. Relatives were also gonna fly down here from Vegas. But because of quarantine, my family and I had planned to cook a bit of kalbi for just us in the house.

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: I’ve had a lot of family time. Before quarantine, I would always go out so being able to be with them more often is nice.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: I am going to get out of the house and see my friends and go on adventures!


Name: Aubree Davis

Age: 18

School: Sacred Hearts Academy

Plans after high school: I will be attending the University of Notre Dame (in Indiana), where I plan to major in political science.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: I wouldn’t be candid with you if I said it’s been easy. I wish I got to go to prom. I wish I got to walk for graduation. I wish I got to spend the last months that I have on the island with my friends before having to go off to college. Though it’s been difficult, self-quarantine has given me a lot of time to think about the current situation that I’m in. I know that my senior year didn’t end as I expected it to, but I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and that we will all come out of this stronger than ever.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: Aside from being able to walk across the stage in the (Blaisdell) concert hall to get my diploma, surrounded by all the amazing young women I have learned and grown from, I’m going to miss getting leis in the courtyard. It sounds a little selfish, but I know that every kid in Hawaii dreams of having too many leis around their neck that they can’t see their family and friends that have come to support them. However, it’s not just about getting leis, but it’s about seeing people that you haven’t seen in a really long time that have come to wish you luck on your future endeavors.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: I was going to have a graduation party at the end of July, but I’m not sure if that is still going to happen. I might have to plan my own graduation party at home with just my parents, my brother and my dog.

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: I think a good thing about not having an in-person ceremony is the opportunity for more people to experience the commencement. With COVID-19, schools are streaming the ceremony on social media and everyone will be able to experience the ceremony together and support the Class of 2020.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: Hang out with my friends, greeting each of them with the biggest hug that I could give, and go to the mall — not to shop but to just walk around, drink an iced latte, watch strangers pass me by and simply enjoy being there.


Name: Amira Fisher

Age: 18

School: Aiea High School, valedictorian

Plans after high school: Go to Georgetown University (in Washington, D.C.).

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: At the moment not so well. In the beginning, it was much easier to adjust to the circumstances. I was able to stay organized, find new interests and hobbies, regularly hang out with friends virtually and so on. Now I have trouble with just making it through the day and being productive. It is a struggle, but I have learned many new things about myself.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: What I miss most about traditional graduation is being able to be side-by-side with all of my friends as we enter the next chapters of our lives. I felt that this was a monumental moment for everyone. In-person graduation would’ve symbolized our transition into adulthood and allowed us to gain closure from high school as we celebrate our accomplishments hand-in-hand.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: I didn’t initially plan much of a celebration for graduation, but I was just hoping to eat out with friends and attend Project Grad (safe, school-organized graduation party).

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: My appreciation for graduation ceremonies and everyone involved. Before this all happened, I took the privilege of being a part of a huge graduation ceremony for granted. Now that everything has changed, I have come to appreciate all those who have sacrificed so much just for us to celebrate our accomplishments in such a grand way. Witnessing teachers, parents, community members and student leaders working so hard against the clock to create something great for us despite the odds warms my heart. Seeing the community come together to help celebrate the Class of 2020 inspires me to go out there and help others. This experience has also taught me to appreciate the little things in life.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: Definitely get a haircut. I feel like that is a great way to help me feel brand-new after all of this is over. I would also go and hang out with my friends and celebrate!


Name: Kekaimalino‘okona Kaimikaua

Age: 18

School: Roosevelt High School

Plans after high school: Study welding at Honolulu Community College.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: I’ve been doing a lot of home workouts and household chores.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: Everything. The whole experience of getting ready, putting on my graduation gown, my mom having her “mom moment” and my brother teasing me! That feeling of walking my high school campus one last time with my friends. I mean who doesn’t miss hearing your name being called and walking down the aisle and receiving your diploma while your family, friends, teachers and friends cheer you on? Or receiving leis from your loved ones for your accomplishments? That would be an amazing feeling to have. And to top it off having your mother or father there, knowing you made them proud.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: This year there are three of us graduating from our family — myself and Cousin Jayzee Frank-Malo from Roosevelt, and Uncle Samson Ah Mook Sang-Frank from Kailua. Like any family, we normally do graduation parties. Since there are three of us graduating, we decided to take a family trip to California to visit Disneyland, Universal Studios, Knott’s Berry Farm and Big Bear in December. But now it has been postponed.

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: I guess at least receiving my diploma and knowing that I graduated from high school.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: Chill with my boys at the beach and barbecue.


Name: Carlee Kasadate

Age: 17

School: James B. Castle High School, valedictorian

Plans after high school: I’m going to attend college at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: I’m trying to make the best of it, but however it’s rough without the social interaction with my friends and the teachers. And I miss all the physical activities and extra-curriculars I love to do like theater and dance.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: I’m going to miss celebrating this once-in-a-lifetime experience with all of my friends. High school graduations in Hawaii are truly special and are found nowhere else in the United States or in the world, and I will also especially miss experiencing the lei ceremony after the graduation.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: I had family coming from out of state and we were planning to have a small party with family and friends to celebrate it.

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: A good thing is that the seniors are still being recognized for their achievement even though it may not be in the traditional sense. And personally I feel that with the circumstances we’re in now, having something to celebrate our hard work is better than not having something at all.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: I want to go to the beach or go hiking, and see all my friends.


Name: Ariana Kashimoto

Age: 18

School: Mililani High School

Plans after high school: Go to the University of Hawaii at Manoa, major in elementary education, and audition for the Rainbow Dancers.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: Not well. I am the type of person who wants to be able to touch people and give them hugs and be next to people in person. It just makes me feel better. So I’ve literally been doing nothing because I feel so down, which is really bad to say because I’m taking three AP (advanced placement) classes. So I still have to take the tests for those to earn my college credits. And I feel like really out of it to do school when school is so “done.” Everything feels finished, but I’m still in it.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: I’m going to miss having that last “togetherness” with my class, the singing of our song and the tassel-flipping. I feel like that’s a moment that you get when you’re with your class to finish it. I feel like I’m not going to get that, which sucks. When you graduate you get to wear all those honor cords too — I worked really hard to maintain my (4.5) GPA. I think I have three cords that I was supposed to get and I feel that I won’t get that recognition. And I had been looking forward to this because I want to get lei-ed. I’ve heard stories where people got so many they couldn’t see over the top and had to carry them on their arm and on their head, and I had been waiting for that.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: Something small with my family, but it was going to be a whole weekend celebrating my birthday and then graduation. It would have been a really good weekend.

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: Not directly, but me and my mom have really bonded because she was fighting for a social-distancing graduation. There are people on the mainland who are making it work because stadiums have the capacity to follow social distancing guidelines and have a graduation.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: I want to hang out with the people that I love. I can rarely even see my family — and to be quite honest, I want to be able to see my boyfriend without it being dangerous.


Name: Hope Morihara

Age: 17

School: Lakeside High School in Evans, Ga. (Hometown: Honolulu)

Plans after high school: I will be attending UC San Diego to major in political science. I hope to have a career in law or government.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: I work at Hawaiian Style BBQ (in Augusta, Ga.), so I am considered an essential worker. But when I’m not working, I’ve been trying to keep up with online schooling, playing with my three dogs, and helping my mom make and donate masks to family, friends and front-line workers.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: Not getting lei-ed.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: Have a grad party at Hawaiian Style BBQ!

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: I’ve always anticipated when I would finally walk across the stage at graduation. When I realized it was unlikely to come to fruition, I was pretty bummed. I thought that graduation would be the closure to this chapter in my life. However, once I accepted the situation for what it is, I realized that I don’t need to walk across a stage in a funny cap and gown while a song plays for me to prove that I did it. The true value is not in a diploma, but it’s in the experiences and lessons learned along the way.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: Go home and visit! Our trip in March got canceled. I moved to Georgia at the start of my freshman year after having only lived in Honolulu my whole life — to say it was a culture shock would be an understatement. Everyone here values Southern hospitality but in my opinion it is nothing compared to the aloha spirit.


Name: Austin Yoshida

Age: 18

School: James B. Castle High School

Plans after high school: I am planning to go to Long Island University Post (in New York) and major in musical theater.

Q: How have you been handling isolation and social distancing?

A: For the most part I’ve been trying to keep a schedule although at times it’s off a little bit. I’m trying to exercise every day and keep my body and mind sharp, and video-calling friends just to keep that cultural activity part of my life.

Q: What do you miss about not having an in-person graduation?

A: I definitely miss the connection with everybody else, seeing everybody else with you, and then looking at the bleachers and having that moment. I also miss the lead-up to it. There’s a day when we will build the platform (for graduation ceremony), and I’ve been doing it for the past two years now, helping out with that, and it was “I get to do it for my graduation this year” — it’s just one of those things, I guess. And on the last day the seniors walk through the hallway and make a bunch of noise.

Q: Plans for celebration?

A: Going to the ceremony and just going home, and spending some time with family. We were planning on having a grad party, just to get together and celebrate, but that’s not going to happen.

Q: What was a good thing that has come from not having an in-person ceremony?

A: It’s nice not to sit out in the sun for a couple of hours. I guess that’s pretty nice.

Q: What do you want to do first when this is over?

A: I want to go and sit down at a restaurant and get a nice meal.

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