Kaua‘i Community School for Adults welcomed students and many cheering supporters at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall Tuesday evening for the class of 2007’s graduation ceremony.
An estimated 100 individuals completed the curriculum and obtained a high school diploma.
“Each one of you is the definition of success,” said Arnold Meister, who provided the piano music for the ceremony. “What you have accomplished here goes against the odds and your own personal fears.”
Meister told the crowd that the success of graduation lies in personal growth, which stay with each individual forever. He added that the challenges are not over, but experience makes them less daunting.
The success of graduation will also lead to another success, he said.
“There will be failures along the way,” he said. “But failures teach you what success cannot.”
Among the more than 30 who attended the exercises, Marciana Ballesteros and Constantino Venzon represented two of the more seasoned graduates.
Ballesteros is 73 years old, while Venzon is 82.
“I held back getting my diploma for 56 years,” Ballesteros, who just returned from a six-month stay on the Mainland to be with her classmates, said. “I now feel glad I finally did it.”
Venzon decided to pursue his high school diploma after the passing of his wife, said family friend Jean Dobashi, who was on hand to offer the new graduate a congratulatory lei.
Even the emcee for the evening, Rotsen Arizabal, had a story to tell about the program.
Arizabal recalled how he did not view school as a place to learn when he was younger.
“I went to school just for the heck of it because my mom would be yelling at me to get ready and to go to school,” he said.
As a senior in high school, Arizabal learned that he was not going to graduate with the rest of his class.
“I left to pursue other opportunities in California,” he said. “I got to work with disabled people, and one day, I came to realize that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in a care home.”
When Arizabal returned to Kaua‘i, he also returned to school at the Kaua‘i Community School for Adults.
“I learned more things here than when I was in high school,” he said at graduation. “Tonight, I feel prouder than I have ever felt.”
Natasha Griep, another student speaker, said her high school life was overtaken by drugs.
“I had an unstable childhood,” the new graduate said. “I was smoking pot in the ninth grade, and I couldn’t keep up with the schoolwork.”
After Griep dropped out of school, she served time in jail for various offenses before realizing that she wanted to come back to Kaua‘i to complete the education she never finished.
“I’m clean and sober now,” Griep said. “I’m looking forward to getting more education at (Kaua‘i Community College). But more than that, I’m looking forward to raising my children.”
County Councilman Mel Rapozo, the keynote speaker, echoed Arizabal’s sentiments, admitting that he, too, barely graduated high school because he viewed it as “a place to hang out and not get caught by the police.”
Rapozo said higher education came with a price, so he joined the National Guard to get a tuition waiver for college. When he was hired by the Kaua‘i Police Department, his college plans came to an end.
“I could not juggle the job with going to school,” Rapozo said.
Now retired from the police force and serving Kaua‘i on the County Council, Rapozo said he has resumed his pursuit of higher education and announced he will get his bachelor’s degree in applied criminal justice in October 2008.
“It’s hard to give support to someone who is fighting with their own personal battles,” Rapozo said. “Tonight we recognize not only the graduates, but those who stood behind them on this road.
“There is nothing wrong with dreaming,” he continued. “Tonight proves that if you’re strong enough, you can succeed.”
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or email@example.com.