‘I want to embrace our culture’

WAIMEA — For Robyn Acob, a rising senior at Waimea High School, being a role model comes naturally.

“I’m a commander in JROTC, so I lead underclassman,” she said. “They look up to me.”

But when Acob starts her last year of high school, she will be more than a JROTC leader — she will also serve as a role model in how to live a life steeped in Hawaiian tradition and values.

Acob and Bailey Mackenzie, a rising senior at Kauai High School, were recently chosen to represent Kauai as Island Scholars.

The Island Scholars program, which was co-developed by Islander Institute and Malama Learning Center, was launched earlier this year.

It aims to honor Hawaii students not for their academic or athletic achievements, but for their commitment to upholding Hawaiian values.

“We need to redefine what success means for our students in Hawaii,” said Alapaki Nahale-a, co-founder . “Islander Scholars is a one-of-a-kind program that says our island values matter too. This award lifts up students who demonstrate care for their schools, families, and communities.”

Their nominations came by way if their principals and teachers, and Acob and Mackinzie were chosen based on how they exemplify six Hawaiian values —belonging, responsibility, excellence, aloha, total well-being and Hawaii — in their school, community and families.

Acob represents those characteristics through her leadership in the JROTC.

Mackenzie exemplifies those characteristics through her volunteer work.

Most recently, Mackenzie worked at a local soup kitchen, handing out food to the Kauai residents who need it the most.

“I like to help out whenever I can,” Mackenzie said. “Whenever I’m given the opportunity to volunteer, I do it.”

Mackenzie said she was surprised when she found out her teacher, Kevin Johnson, and principal, Anne Kane, nominated her to be an Island Scholar.

“I didn’t expect it because it was something different,” she said.

Acob, whose JROTC teacher, Victor Aguilar handed her an application to finish for the honor, said she was just as shocked and both girls said they believe it’s their duty to perpetuate Hawaiian culture and language.

“It’s about knowing and understanding that we’re racially unique compared to the Mainland, and being appreciative of it,” Acob said.“I love how we have slang the Mainland doesn’t know.”

A total of 16 juniors from Kauai, Oahu, Lanai, Maui and the Big Island were named Island Scholars this year.

This weekend, all of the students will meet on Oahu at Islander Scholars Academy at Camp Palehua in Kapolei to connect and learn from each other, develop cultural and leadership skills and build relationships with other island mentors, according to a release from Island Scholars.

“The three-day academy will feature ice breakers, workshops and hiking, Acob said. Both young women said they are looking forward to attending, and to setting an example in the coming year for their peers.

“I’m used to it. So when they asked me to be a role model, I said ‘for sure,’” Acob said. “We live in paradise. I want to embrace our culture and show how awesome it is.”

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