How have journalism and critical thinking on public issues in Hawaii’s high schools evolved since you and Eunica Escalante wrote the first “Raise Your Hand” youth column on March 7, 2016?
To say that I have been astounded by the capabilities of current high school students would be an understatement. What I have found is that students are much more cognizant of social issues and are willing to seize opportunities that elevate youth voices.
When I was a student working on my high school’s newspaper, it felt like everyone wanted to write for the features section. The appeal of crafting a narrative, an interview, or even a book or movie review was unrivaled. The assignment offered creative freedom and, to an extent, comfort because the features were an innate extension of students’ interests. In contrast, virtually no one was willing to author an editorial, an opinion piece forever associated with that student. Conducting research, structuring an argument, and opening oneself to criticism were actions that very few, me included, were willing to take.
The same cannot be said about high school students today. Look no further than the “Raise Your Hand” column (which runs on the first Sunday monthly in the Star-Advertiser’s Insight section). Since 2016, I have witnessed youth memorialize their unbridled opinions on local, national and international issues. These students break the stereotypes that youth are too disengaged, merely “complaining” about issues. With information from various platforms at their fingertips, students no longer ask whether there is enough information to form an opinion. That problem has been largely solved. Instead, they critically evaluate the information they intake and consider where their opinion is situated in the larger conversation.
What can be done to get more high school students engaged in public policy?
High school students first need a better understanding of what the government and nonprofit sector do.
As the entity that can make, administer and enforce policies, government exercises a large amount of control over how communities function. Often filling in the gaps left by government, the nonprofit sector provides services that are lacking in communities and advocates for policy changes on behalf of the communities they serve. Between the two, students can be more engaged by participating in roles that they are made aware of and appeal to their interests.
How do you train high school and college students to become leaders in their community?
There is no secret formula, some tried-and-true method, to develop young leaders. Leaders can come from anyone and from anywhere. What I do know, though, is that high school and college students often benefit from an environment that promotes agency and accountability. It is not enough to only give students a platform for them to be heard. In fact, some students feel alienated when they utilize such a platform to convey their concerns but ultimately no change is implemented. That gives students the illusion that their opinion matters. Instead, an environment that integrates student involvement from the start of the decision-making process, or affords students some amount of autonomy, encourages students to be invested in issues affecting them and their community. Students grow immensely when they are mentally stimulated and challenged. This growth can be facilitated by having students work on developing solutions to issues in their community.
On a more practical note, setting clear expectations for their work helps ensure that their role is not ceremonial, but an actual opportunity to enact meaningful change. More often than not, I think people will find that youth will exceed those expectations.
How has the pandemic affected you and the students you work with?
I am extremely fortunate to have been (and still be) a student amid the pandemic. Other than spending time with family, focusing on my education has provided me some semblance of stability that I would not have if I were working full-time. However, I recognize that the situation is not the same for others.
The pandemic served as an opportune moment for change. Most notably, the proliferation of telecommuting has undoubtedly changed workplaces and schools forever. While students may be divided on the preferred delivery of education, students likely are evaluating flexibility and the ability to telecommute in their employment for the foreseeable future. Additionally, so many students have been able to prioritize pursuits that they had relegated to their periphery — opening a business, exploring new hobbies and reconnecting with others. On the other hand, there were students whose entire lives were upended, suffering heartbreaking losses. Like the millions of adults who have reevaluated their work-life balance, students, too, are living with greater awareness and concern for their quality of life.
As you enter your third year of law school, how have your career goals changed?
When I entered law school, I already knew that I wanted to be practicing law in Hawaii. That goal remains unchanged. As someone who was born, raised and educated in Hawaii, I consider it a great privilege to work in the place that has afforded me so many opportunities and to give back to those in my community.
What has changed is my perception of what it means to be a lawyer, specifically in Hawaii. Throughout my first two years of law school, I noticed an underlying theme of compassion that is ingrained in the school’s culture. True to Chief Justice William Richardson’s philosophy of “looking out for those at the bottom of the stream,” faculty and staff are willing to extend a helping hand, and students always seek to lift each other up. As a result, when I envision how I want to practice law in Hawaii in the future, I not only think about being a competent lawyer but also a compassionate one.
THE BIO FILE
>> Current positions: Student, William S. Richardson School of Law, Class of 2022; co-editor-in-chief, University of Hawaii Law Review
>> Previous experience: Summer associate, Case Lombardi & Pettit; summer extern, Hawaiian Electric Co., legal department
>> Personal background: Born and raised in Honolulu, currently residing in Aiea; Fellows Class of 2015, Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders; Damien Memorial School graduate; B.A. in English with honors from University of Hawaii-Manoa. Enjoy cooking, playing volleyball, and teaching my dog new tricks, often with varying degrees of success.
>> One more thing: Think big, think bigger, then be bigger than you think.