Education is the great equalizer, said Kaua‘i Rep. Roland Sagum, the keynote speaker at Tuesday’s Kauai Community School for Adults graduation.
Education is a two-way street, he told the 39 participating graduates from the 105 members of the class.
“The role of the teacher is to motivate and inspire students to learn,” he said. “The role of the student is to go out and get the education.”
Sagum opted to use the time for his speech to applaud the graduating students, his gesture of stepping aside from the podium and applauding the graduates catalyzing the audience who responded with a standing ovation at the Kaua‘i War Memorial Convention Hall.
It was the second time in the evening the audience rose to a standing ovation for the graduates. Earlier, Kaua‘i Area Complex Superintendent Bill Arakaki congratulated the graduates in his remarks, bringing everyone to their feet.
“You come from different backgrounds and each one of you has a story that’s unique,” Arakaki said. “But you all have a common value — you have discovered the value of education through your determination, commitment and persistence. You have become role models in the community.”
Arakaki garnered applause and cheers when he told the graduates to give their supporters in the audience a look.
“Don’t forget the people who made it possible for you to be here tonight,” Arakaki said. “Take a moment to make eye contact with them. Give them the eye. The good kine’ eye.”
Richard Coon Jr., a graduate of the General Education Development program, said he was 40 years too late and encouraged young people to get their education while they are still young.
“This is a very real accomplishment for me,” Coon, one of four student speakers, said. “In 1968, I was already a grade behind in high school, and I never made it.”
But Coon went out and learned celestial navigation on his own and became an instructor for adult education without a high school diploma.
A motorcycle accident at age 57 left him bankrupt with growing medical expenses.
It was that experience that prompted him to seek out a high school diploma so he could make his way back into the community.
“Start college. Do anything that will further yourself and take care of your family,” Coon told the graduates. “Do it when you’re young.”
Sashalis Catley-Kanei, speaking for the Competency Based High School Diploma program, said Tuesday night’s graduation was a second chance to be successful.
Catley-Kanei said she became pregnant when she was a sophomore in high school and while trying to juggle raising her child, working and going to school, was not able to make it.
“This is my second chance to be successful and the pride I feel tonight is awesome,” Catley-Kanei said. “I’m enrolled in college, now, and in 2009, I will be graduating with an associates degree in criminal justice. I want to get a job as a crime scene investigator.”
Similarly, Tiana Carlos, another of the Competency Based High School Diploma program speakers, said she too got pregnant while still in high school.
“I tried to get a job, but it was too hard and I turned to drugs,” Carlos said. “For 14 years, I was so lonely.”
She credits her fiance for encouraging her to follow her heart and her dreams.
Through the Community School for Adults, Carlos said, she got her self-esteem back and got help finding a job.
With her diploma, Carlos said she is succeeding and plans on furthering her studies in business with the hope of getting a job in business management or real estate.
Throughout the evening squeals from little children punctuated the ceremony, one young voice standing out above the rest — “Mommy. That’s mommy.”
One of the grandparents in the audience was tending a little one.
“My daughter was just two credits from graduating from high school,” the grandmother said. “Tonight, she made it.”
Less than a week after more than a thousand students graduated from Kaua‘i’s public high schools, the small group from the Kaua‘i Community School for Adults relished its own achievements and accomplishments.
“I’ve waited for this day for longer than I can remember,” Melissa Schneider, another of the student speakers, said. “It took the first step. We never got any prom pictures, or senior pictures, but we never gave up hope. We may have taken a little longer, but we made it.”
• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or email@example.com