Kapa‘a student gave more than two cents on state quarter

When the United States Mint introduced the first coins of the “50 States Commemorative Coin Program” in 1999, local student Malia Hitch began to collect them. She had no idea that a few years later she’d be a part of the process to design the coin that would represent her home state.

Now, as a 17-year-old senior at Kapa‘a High School, Hitch has lent her two cents as a member of the Hawai‘i Commemorative Quarter Advisory Commission. The 36-member group was convened by Gov. Linda Lingle to select, develop and recommend designs emblematic of Hawai‘i to the U.S. Mint for the Hawai‘i Commemorative Quarter.

“I’m really happy,” said Hitch, who will begin class at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa this fall. “I think I made a difference.”

Hitch was one of five high school students on the commission and the only one from Kaua‘i. The rest of the 36-member HCQAC was made up of individuals from across the state representative of Hawai‘i’s diversity, including leaders from the community, government, business, education, labor, Native Hawaiian affairs, and culture and the arts. Two prominent HCQAC members included Sen. Fred Hemmings and House Minority Leader, Rep. Lynn Finnegan.

A member of the Numismatic Association, an organization dedicated to the study and collection of coins, was also on the commission.

Student representatives were selected through an essay contest conducted by each island’s local newspaper. Hitch’s essay to The Garden Island newspaper earned her the right to represent Kaua‘i.

In 1997, the United States Mint implemented the “50 States Commemorative Coin Program,” which established a new series of quarters to commemorate each of the 50 states. It was the first change to the quarter since production of the Bicentennial quarter in 1975 and 1976.

A schedule was determined to issue the coins every 10 weeks in the order in which the states ratified the Constitution and joined the Union. Hawai‘i’s quarter, the last in the program to be minted, is slated to be produced for 10 weeks prior to its release in the fall of 2008.

State designs were submitted and recommended via a process determined by the governor of each state. Not every state included input from local students.

Jonathan Johnson, director of the Art in Public Places Program and Hawai‘i State Art Museum, chaired the HCQAC and said that the inclusion of students made sense to him.

“The real purpose of the coins is education, so students can learn about other states,” said Johnson. “The commission had such a broad cross-section of people, we truly did represent the people of Hawai‘i.”

Hitch, who is active with her school’s student council, began attending HCQAC meetings in March, 2006 at the state capitol.

“Our first meeting was in the Lt. Governor’s office,” said Hitch. “He came out and gave a speech about the process.”

The HCQAC then went through the process of weeding through hundreds of ideas, themes and concepts submitted by the public, some of which were more cynical than others, according to Hitch.

“Some people wrote in and asked, ‘Why are you wasting our money with this?’ But then gave us their idea anyway.”

The ideas were then used to develop five narratives that were submitted to the U.S. Mint, which then returned actual original artwork approved by the Secretary of the Treasury focusing on aesthetic beauty, historical accuracy, appropriateness and coinability.

“They came up with pictures for every design, and then we picked which one we liked best and told them if we wanted changes.”

The HCQAC also took into consideration the results of a public on-line poll conducted over two weeks in April.

In the end, one design was a clear favorite.

On April 23, Lingle announced that “Hawai‘i, the Island State” (known during the process as design number four) would be the design for Hawai‘i’s commemorative quarter. The design depicts the famous King Kamehameha I statue on the reverse of the coin, with his hand stretching toward the eight main Hawaiian islands.

The state motto, “Ua mau ke ea o ka ‘aina i ka pono” (The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness), sits in the lower left portion of the reverse. At the top of the coin are the words “Hawai‘i” and the year “1959,” when Hawai‘i was admitted to the Union. “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of the many, one) is at the bottom.

George Washington appears on the obverse of all 50 coins.

“Everybody pretty much agreed on it,” said Hitch, who was on hand for the official announcement last month. “There were a few people who still wanted other ones, but the majority of them decided this was the best design. They felt like it represented everybody, was really nice and were happy with it.”

According to Hitch, ideas that didn’t make the cut for various reasons included the depiction of Hawaiian gods and a multi-racial group of citizens a la “It’s a Small World,” the Walt Disney Theme Park ride.

Hitch said that during the process, some committee members offered ideas that she didn’t feel represented the state or its people as a whole, and had no problem saying as much.

“I spoke up and tried to fight for things that represented the whole state versus just O‘ahu. They wanted Diamond Head on it, but I said I don’t feel like Diamond Head represents me. The people from Big Island and Maui and Molokai felt the same way. You should make it fair to everybody.”

Johnson said he appreciated the students’ passionate input.

“It was clear that the students’ role was just as important as everyone else’s. All the students played an active role, especially Malia. She supported the Neighbor Islands’ perspective very strong.”

Even though Hitch described the process as “really long,” consisting of nine committee meetings on O‘ahu over the course of 13 months, she said the opportunity gave her a unique look at the inner workings of government.

“It was really interesting to learn about the stuff they have to go through when in committee. They held it the same way any other committee would be held. We didn’t have enough people one day so we couldn’t do anything because we didn’t have the numbers.”

Hitch also said she learned how to deal with bureaucratic bumps along the way. When the U.S. Mint originally suggested that there wasn’t enough room on the coin to include the state motto, committee members met with them to push the idea through.

“They tried to tell us that it wouldn’t fit, but we got them to put it on there. We thought it was really important.”

Hawai‘i’s quarter is the only one in the set to include a language other than Latin and English.

As for her own coin collecting, Hitch hopes she’ll get first crack at the new Hawai‘i coin when it is released.

“I’m hoping they’ll give us first edition or mint copies or something.”

•Todd A. Vines is the associate editor of Essential Kaua‘i, Kauai Publishing Company’s visitor publication. He can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 256) or tvines@kauaipubco.com.

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