Planting the Seeds of Character

Camila Chaudron '08

January 14, 2015

“A seed doesn’t become a tree overnight,” said John Leong ’96 to a class of Academy students. Using the metaphor of a seedling that “cannot grow in the comfort of its seedpod,” Leong and his wife, Julianna Rapu ’97 Leong, shared their work and life experiences with the School as this year’s Spirit and Service Speakers.


For the past 14 years, the School has hosted a guest lecturer in January to discuss the connections between faith and action. Previous Spirit and Service speakers have included: Kent Koth, program director at the Haas Center for Public Service at Stanford University in 2001; spoken word poets Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye in 2013; and, most recently, labyrinth designer Lars Howlett in 2014.

The Leongs, who met at Punahou and became engaged under the hala tree by Ka Punahou, said that they “felt a responsibility to make a difference in our state.” After graduating from college, they moved back to Hawai‘i and created two companies: Pono Pacific oversees projects in natural resource management and conservation, and Kupu is a nonprofit that aims to empower youth through character building, service learning and environmental stewardship opportunities.

They encouraged students to explore their potential as agents of positive change in the world. “Don’t underestimate your potential, or the potential of those around you,” advised Rapu Leong.

They also took examples from nature to demonstrate the importance of developing a strong sense of character. The albizia tree, an invasive species commonly found in the Islands, has a large canopy but a very shallow root system, Rapu Leong explained. When the winds are strong, these trees are top-heavy and become a liability – they quickly overturn and cause damage to the nearby communities where they fall.

In contrast, the ‘a‘ali‘i tree is a native plant that grows more slowly than the albizia, and has a smaller canopy. But because the ‘a‘ali‘i tree has very deep roots it can withstand harsher weather. “Every second we make choices about who we are, so we must be sure to steward those choices,” said Leong, “because our choices develop into deeper roots.”

The Leongs shared their message with every student in the School, kindergarten through grade 12, at ten separate Chapel visits from Jan. 5 – 12, 2015.

The Spirit and Service Speaker Series is hosted by the Punahou Chapel in partnership with Luke Center for Public Service and supported by the generosity of the Class of 1941 Chapel Endowed Fund and the Chaplain Kenneth Rewick Community Service Endowed Fund.


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