'79 Shines at Pa‘ina
On the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration, about 160 Punahou alumni, friends and family ditched their fancy clothes and gathered at Yaku Restaurant in Arlington, Va., to celebrate their fellow alumnus, talk story, flip through old Oahuans and dance hula.
Obama's fifth-grade and high school homeroom teachers Pal Eldredge '64 and Eric Kusunoki joined musician Jacques "Leokane" Pryor '82 in strumming island songs as attendees reminisced about their days at Punahou and celebrated the accomplishments of their now most famous classmate.
Beadie Kanahele '47 Dawson, an advocate for Hawaiian rights, remembered her daughter Donne '79, playing kickball with Obama at Punahou. Donne is now Hawai‘i state film commissioner and Obama is president. "We have such a love for each other at Punahou," Dawson said. "It's like we're all blood relatives. And Barack reflects the Hawaiian spirit in everything he does. He's totally inclusive and nonpartisan. And that's how we are in Hawai‘i."
Honolulu physician Laurie Tom '79, who organized the event, concurred: "There's a deep sense of pride in what Obama has accomplished. He will do his best to lead the country."
The event, which grew from a simple notion of a '79 reunion dinner, brought together guests from all over the United States, including 32 of Obama's '79 classmates, his basketball buddies, several trustees, Punahou President Jim Scott '70, and even a rival or two: Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, an ‘Iolani graduate who coached their junior varsity basketball team against Obama's Punahou junior varsity team; and Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., a Kapa‘a High School graduate who played center against Obama when Obama was a forward. "Forget the Punahou-‘Iolani rivalry," Hannemann said. "We're very, very proud of him."
Perhaps none was more proud than Obama's class dean, Paula Kurashige: "He's energizing us to be respectful of each other and be really thoughtful. I feel exhilarated, proud, honored and thankful that the people in this country elected him president."
While they came together to celebrate another newsmaker, they became a media event in their own right, drawing Honolulu newspapers and TV stations, The Washington Post and even an Italian TV station that posted footage on its Web site.
Though thousands of miles from home, it could have been any backyard party. "The crowd went wild when Kikilia Fordham '82 Schaefer, Boy Eldredge '79 and Pryor danced hula to "Ulupalakua," Tom said. And the group went on to rally everyone with "Cheer Boys Cheer" and "On O‘ahu," finishing with "Oahu wa" and "Strawberry Shortcake."
"It had all the elements of a perfect alumni event. The enthusiasm was contagious and could not be contained on this magical evening," said Schaefer. "Alumni and friends from across the globe were laughing, reminiscing and celebrating the gift we share - our Punahou ‘ohana."