Hail to Alumnus-in-Chief
The Punahou ohana gathers on campus to celebrate the inauguration with its own presidential parade
By Alexandre Da Silva/Honolulu Star-Bulletin
Hundreds of students, parents and teachers packed Punahou School long before the morning bell rang yesterday to watch history unfold as its most famous alumnus became the nation's first black president.
Teachers assigned students presidential-themed lessons while about 1,000 kindergartners through fifth-graders participated in a parade to celebrate the inauguration of Hawaii-born Barack Obama, a 1979 graduate of the private school in Manoa.
The students, many wearing T-shirts, shorts and slippers, waved flags and carried signs that read "Yes, we did" and "Together we can" as they marched at the campus under sunny skies - a contrast to the cold endured by Punahou's marching band members, Junior ROTC cadets and cheerleaders who performed in Washington, D.C.
The parade culminated with students gathering in a gymnasium as they chanted "Obama, Obama" before being shown videos of the day's events in the nation's capital.
Among them was fifth-grader Taylor, who woke up at 5:30 a.m. and arrived at school before sunrise to watch Obama be sworn in as the 44th U.S. president. She joined more than 400 people who crammed into the auditorium to view a live broadcast on a giant screen.
"It was tough," Taylor, 11, said about getting out of bed early. "But it was worth it."
The audience, which applauded about a half-a-dozen times as Obama pledged to fix the economy, improve schools, health care and launch a diplomatic administration, gave him a standing ovation after his roughly 20-minute speech.
"It's an interesting inauguration because he is our first African-American president," said eighth-grader Victoria, 13. "It is making a difference in my life because he is from Punahou and now I just want to do better in school."
Shari Smart came with her husband Jim, a Punahou School humanities teacher, and their daughter, Sierra, who had an American flag hanging from her neck with the words "The Obamas are awesome" written on it. "I like him because he went to Punahou," the 7-year-old said of the new president.
Just last month, Obama visited the campus for a game of pickup basketball, nearly three decades after he graduated. Obama, who was 10 when he enrolled at Punahou in fifth grade, played eighth-grade football, high school basketball, sang in the choir and wrote for the school's literary journal, Ka Wai Ola. In his first year at Punahou, Obama met his most influential teacher, Mabel Hefty, who developed a bond with Obama because she had lived and worked in Kenya, his father's birthplace.
"It is very inspirational to see a graduate of Punahou become president and lead our nation to a better time," said Kalen, 14, an eighth-grader. "I liked how we are going to work together to make our nation a better place. We are going to work together with other nations to be a better world."
A team of Punahou eighth-graders yesterday was assigned lessons in science, math, English and social studies that centered on Obama's inauguration.
Math teacher Todd Chow-Hoy said his class traced Obama's path to the presidency by analyzing election results and the electoral-college process.
"It's a great day to celebrate but it is also a very meaningful instructional day," said Punahou Junior School Principal Mike Walker. "We are always looking for relevancy. Learning is powerful when it is relevant."
Reprinted with permission from the Jan 21, 2009, issue of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin