“To be part of the democratic tradition is to be a prisoner of hope. And you cannot be a prisoner of hope without engaging in a form of struggle in the present moment that keeps the best of the past alive. To engage in that struggle means that one is always willing to acknowledge that there is no triumph around the corner, but that you persist because you believe it is right and just and moral.”

Cornel West


David M. Ball, PhD

Pamela Sakamoto, PhD

Program Coordinators
Davis Democracy Initiative

Distinction in Civic Education is granted to Punahou Academy students who demonstrate focused study, self-direction, and deep community involvement in the civic institutions, public issues, and cultural discourses shaping American democracy at the local, state, and national levels.
Skills grounded in critical thinking, collaboration, empathy, and mediation will be essential for our graduates to address the pressing challenges our society will continue to face. Efforts to build emotional intelligence and the capacity to assess one’s own implicit and explicit biases will be vital as well. Amid our society’s renewed calls for civil rights and increasing political polarization, these abilities are particularly valuable in our contemporary society. 

Beginning early in the Academy and in collaboration with faculty and outside mentors, students should begin planning their coursework and pursuing opportunities that will lead to a portfolio that demonstrates mastery of these competencies in both their academic and extracurricular achievements. Core themes for inquiry and engagement may include such topics as: politics, governance, and public policy; civil discourse, media, and communications; poverty, diversity, and access to justice; environmental issues, healthcare, and education; community engagement, non-profit organizations, and social responsibility. The distinction process is a valuable opportunity that can shape a student’s energy and interest into a meaningful impact in the wider world, giving life to their academic study and realizing Punahou’s mission to be a private school with a public purpose.


Students may indicate interest in the Distinction in Civic Education process at any time, though it is advised to begin thinking about the competencies and required evidence early during the Academy experience. Progress toward the Distinction will be monitored, reviewed, and awarded by Center Directors and faculty mentors upon the presentation of a portfolio that includes academic work and self-directed action and experience beyond the classroom walls.


Final portfolios will require at least 3 pieces of evidence demonstrating growth toward each competency.

Think Critically
Students can recognize the broad applicability of their knowledge and skill sets, and independently apply their learning in new contexts.
  1. I connect knowledge and skills within and across disciplines.
  2. I evaluate experiences or solve problems using knowledge and skills from multiple disciplines. 
  3. I articulate the relevance of my learning.

Students can enact open-minded listening and thinking skills to engage empathetically with people and with different points of view.
  1. I demonstrate a willingness to have my mind changed during group work.
  2. I ask questions to understand the points of view of my group members.
  3. I encourage the group to incorporate a diversity of thought in our work.

Students can respond to a true need in a community and take impactful action.
  1. I investigate the needs and concerns of a community.
  2. I engage with the perspectives of community members to understand context and complexity.
  3. I co-design an action plan with the community.

Students can reflect upon how privilege and power have the potential to guide decision making.
  1. I recognize power and privilege are not equal for all in a society.
  2. I investigate how differing power or privilege impacts members of a society.
  3. I explore ways that power or privilege could be used to create opportunities for others.

Evidence for Competency

Providing Evidence
The following list is a road map for how students would gather sufficient evidence for the Distinction. Students may, however, discuss and plan for an alternative road map with their faculty mentor.

All of the following: 
  • Completion of courses and school projects, when applicable, that demonstrate deep investment in civic education
  • Ke Kilohana or Capstone project encompassing civic issues with mentorship from faculty and outside leaders
  • Sustained involvement in advocacy for civic issues or work with local, state, and national elected leaders on issues that affect our communities
  • Interning or service placement in a public-facing, non-profit, community, or governmental organization in fields like law, education, healthcare, media, or the arts
  • Significant participation in the Democracy Fellows or Luke Leaders program, or a similarly focused group off-campus

Two or more of the following: 
  • Running for student government leadership opportunities and/or serving meaningfully in student government
  • Interning or significantly participating with local and state government leaders
  • Engaging others in structured, thoughtful, and meaningful discussions of difficult subjects and controversial ideas, either peer-to-peer in the Academy or through Junior School workshops 
  • Designing or helping to run a G-term or Experiences course that engages Punahou students in sustained dialogue around contentious issues of local, state, or national consequence
  • Developing a course of independent study on issues of governance and civic values with interested faculty
  • Collaborating with University of Hawai’i Richardson School of Law partners in the recruitment and invitation of visiting scholars, shared events, and potential opportunities for students to engage in clinic work
  • Creating pathways for those underserved by civic organizations or without access to political participation
  • Participating in student voter registration drives or local, state, and national campaigns for elected office
  • Engaging with civic engagement organizations such as Project Citizen, Kids Voting Hawaii, the PACE Commission, and VOTE16
  • Significant service work or leadership experience with Punahou groups such as National Honor Society and/or Key Club
  • BUILD YOUR OWN! If you are already on a journey that does not fit perfectly within the framework above, please contact David Ball to design your own unique pathway.


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