The Incomparable

Class of 2017

Academy Principal Emily McCarren delivered this speech at Commencement on
June 3, 2017.

It is an honor to present the Class of 2017 on behalf of the faculty and staff of Punahou School.

Many people have played important roles in the lives of these remarkable students seated behind me. Among them are the dedicated and talented faculty and staff of Punahou School. Thank you for all you have done for this class and all of our students.

On behalf my colleagues at Punahou, it is my honor to share our sense of this class; what they have accomplished; who they are; and our soaring hope for their collective impact in the world.

The Punahou Class of 2017 represents just 4 percent of the graduating seniors in the state and yet they have earned a disproportionate number of accolades and recognitions. For example, this year, over 40 perent of the National Merit Semifinalists from the State of Hawai‘i are members of this class.

And, as you can see by the performances tonight, this class has led our school’s music and theatre performances that can only be rivaled by schools that specialize exclusively in the arts. Their concerts, performances and shows of all sizes and types delighted thousands throughout their high-school careers.

Over half of this class participated in athletics this year. Among them are nationally and internationally ranked individuals and teams. They led Punahou teams that won nearly 60 percent of the championships in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu and just over a third of all of the Hawai‘i State Championships this year.

The most impressive attributes of this class are harder to quantify, but even more telling of who they are. For those of them who were here in middle school, their supervisor, Doc Chow Hoy remembers them fondly: compassionate, caring and rambunctious. Their class deans, Lisa Stewart and Ron Gould describe their love and admiration for them by sharing that, “you are not just tolerant of diversity, but you embrace it wholeheartedly and are committed to leveraging difference as a strength.”

One of their world language teachers wrote that they are “a truly unusually kind, thoughtful, giving and selfless class, always looking out for ways to help others.” She continued, “Thoughtful empathy to the max!”

From Introduction to Social Studies in the basement of Pauahi Hall, to Capstone trips on island and in far flung places around the globe; to studios, labs, classrooms, theaters, pools, fields and courts to knee deep in loʻi mud, we have come to know you, love you and believe in you.

In your freshman year, planning was underway for the worldwide voyage of the Hōkūle‘a. In the summer between your freshman and sophomore years the canoe sailed south towards Tahiti in the first leg of her worldwide voyage, Mālama Honua.

We would be hard pressed to imagine a voyage more hopeful than the notion of sailing a traditional Polynesian canoe around the globe, through treacherous seas and mind bogglingly complex logistical issues. And, interestingly with no easily measurable outcome, at least in the traditional sense of measuring success. What would success look like? How will we know that the Worldwide Voyage has achieved what it was meant to? Success, if broadly defined is difficult to measure – and we believe that this is a critical notion for the education that children, and the world, need.

One of your social studies teachers shared that “this class is determined to craft their own definition of success. A class with many leaders, artists and individuals driven to stand up against intolerance and hate.”

We can wonder what might have happened if instead of hope, the voyage of the Hōkūle‘a was based on fear. If the opposite of hope is fear, it is easy to imagine that the canoe might never have left the safe harbor of Honolulu. If we allow culture and communities to maintain the status quo in fear of change – as opposed to innovate and evolve in hopes of change – our world loses.

As the canoe sailed around the world, the route was revised over and over again, new ports emerged and surprise connections and learning deepened and clarified the meaning of the voyage. By the fall of your senior year, Hōkūle‘a was exploring the East Coast of the United States. One cold drizzly fall afternoon my parents drove from their home on Lake Champlain in Vermont to where the canoe was docked, and they cautiously walked up to the crewmembers who were busy at work preparing to set sail the next day. They met a woman on the crew who knew their daughter who lived thousands of miles away, and who they missed. And all of the sudden the world seemed tiny. This was one small, unpredictable and beautiful moment of a worldwide voyage that touched my life, and the voyage has touched hundreds of thousands of people in just as many ways, inspiring them to come closer to each other, to see our differences as strength, just like you do. And to be bold about the things that matter. It was an unplanned success – hard to measure, but impossible not to feel. We know your future, like your journey so far, will have many of these unplanned successes.

In a moment in history in which it is much easier to point out what is not working than what is working well, we are counting on these young people to find and amplify the good, wherever it lies.

One of their English teachers said, “These students are coming of age in such an uncertain time yet they are not wallowing in that uncertainty but embracing their role as future agents of change. I feel really proud of them for that.” The Class of 2017 has chosen hope over fear.

This night is about celebrating these students. Because it is about celebrating you, and not just your successes, we also are called to honor your hardships. We know that learning and growth happen in success, and that we are often shaped more quickly and deeply by hardship. Collectively and as individuals, you have suffered losses, from the trivial to the truly, devastatingly tragic. Many of these challenges we designed for you, like difficult courses, competitive athletics, projects designed to stretch you to your capacity, and a learning environment that depends on your leadership and care for each other.

You have endured other hardships that we didn’t design, and would never hope for. And, as much as you may have learned or are learning from those hardships, we would give anything to have been able to protect you from them. And yet, we are inspired by your grace and resilience.

Just weeks from Hōkūle‘a’s expected return home to O‘ahu, you are preparing the next leg of your voyage, perhaps the first one away from these familiar shores. Your voyage is also a hopeful one. Here, hopefulness is not to be confused with a naiveté, or, as Mr. Maloney warned at your Baccalaureate last week, recklessness.

The world needs you to set your course with clear-minded, purposeful hope. And remember, like the voyage of the Hōkūle‘a, your voyage needs direction, but it is likely to be more meaningful, more enjoyable and more full of purpose (not to mention delightful serendipity) if you allow for – and even seek out – changes of course as you search for meaning. Set a course and allow success to be something you define and discover, not something you thoughtlessly march towards blindly.

And we trust this class to know how to set the course. One of your kindergarten teachers wrote this for you to hear tonight: “Class of 2017: What I want you to know is that you are complete and wonderful exactly how you are right this minute. You don't need to become anything other that exactly who you are in the moment, and right in this moment you fill us with immeasurable love, pride, joy and wonder. If you ever question your value, or that you matter, we are here and we will reassure you that you matter very, very much to us.”

Because of you, Class of 2017, we are choosing hope over fear. We know that you will set the course of which our fragile island earth is in desperate need.

Dr. Scott, on behalf of the faculty and staff of Punahou School, I humbly present to you the incomparable Class of 2017.