"When I went in as an outsider in seventh grade, with my pidgin English and my strange local way of dressing, I thought the preppies were the odd ones," chuckles Gloria "Cookie" Doo '65 Ayabe. "I guess I was kind of hilarious in my homemade dresses – grandfather had the Yat Loy Store on King and Nu'uanu selling dry goods so we all learned to sew – but that was the neat thing about Punahou. Everybody was a little unique."
"The school was big enough so you could find your own niche. Punahou does that; it nurtures the individual."
Fifty years later, Cookie is still one of the unique and eclectic Class of 1965, which came together again this summer to celebrate their diversity, their individuality and the school that embraced them all.
"Fifty years melted away, and we were back on campus thrilled to greet and hug each other," says Cookie. "The feeling was exhilarating."
As a group, the Class of 1965 made a total commitment of $1.3 million in reunion gifts to its beloved school. Some, like Cookie, were inspired by the "Changing Lives Challenge," which Punahou launched in early 2015 to support its financial aid program. Thanks to an anonymous donor, all donations to Punahou endowed financial aid funds of $25,000 or more were matched, dollar for dollar, doubling the value of each gift.
"When I mentioned it to Sid, he said 'That's fantastic!'" remembers Cookie of her husband Sidney's reaction to the idea. Sidney Ayabe, a partner with the Honolulu firm Ayabe Chong Nishimoto Sia & Nakamura, is as dedicated to paying it forward as his wife, and has always contributed to his own schools too.
Sidney upped their gift to $50,000, which was doubled by the match for a total of $100,000. "With that extremely generous anonymous donor, this was the time to show you're grateful to Punahou for all the good things it has provided," Sidney said. The Ayabes set up "The Sidney and Gloria 'Cookie' Ayabe Scholarship Fund," allowing Punahou to use its proceeds to support student financial aid as the School sees fit.
"We felt this would help other students experience the same extraordinary Punahou education our three daughters, Lisa '00, Sara '01 and Marie '04, enjoyed," notes Cookie.
She adds: "We all felt a sense of gratitude to our Punahou," speaking of her classmates and their families, many of whom traveled long distances to be part of almost two dozen Reunion events spread over two hectic weeks in June.
Time stood still and years faded away. Recollections of graduation came back, and she remembers how, even as 18-year-olds heading out into the world, they were challenged to think far into the future.
"We were encouraged to give back to Punahou, however small."
The message found fertile ground among members of the Class of 1965. Every year since their marriage in 1977, the Ayabes have given to the Punahou Annual Fund. The commitment has always felt as comfortable as one of Cookie's home-made dresses.