LIHUE — Athena Abadilla received the $2,000 YWCA of Kauai’s Young Women’s Scholarship Fund at the YWCA of Kauai send-off party Tuesday.
“It’s everything that I stand for,” said the recent Waimea High School graduate. “It’s a culmination of all the work I’ve done to put into working toward the empowerment of women and against racial bias and against the gender binary. I’m so happy to be the scholarship recipient because that also validated my choice in Barnard College.”
Senator Ron Kouchi, who attended the send-off party, said it’s important for woman like Abadilla to have leadership roles in the community.
“We have a strong history of powerful woman culturally,” Kouchi said. “They’ve had great role models. We’re standing here on the night when the first female was just nominated to be president of the United States. The importance is to know that we can be anything we want if we work hard and have enough skills.”
Rep. Derek Kawakami compared Abadilla to the Greek goddess of wisdom, Athena, who would only fight for a just cause.
Abadilla fights for female empowerment, he said. He thanked “the village who raised this goddess.”
The 17-year-old Abadilla will fly out to New York City on Aug. 22 to start classes at Barnard College, a women’s liberal arts school at Columbia University.
Abadilla, who has a sister six years older than her who went to Stanford University, applied to one college — and 25 scholarships.
“I don’t think my finances match my goals that I have for myself,” she said. “I want to go into education. College is really expensive. I want to be financially stable in the future. That’s why I applied for so many scholarships. I don’t want my family to stress so much.”
The student government senior class president said too often ideas and opportunities on Kauai are missed and she wants to get out into the world, explore those ideas and bring them back to the island.
“Because we are not part of the continental U.S., there is a lot of stuff we are oblivious to,” she said. “We live in a little paradise too, because we don’t have to worry about attacks on culture and attacks on religion because we are such an accepting culture here.”
Yet, one challenge the young woman has faced are gender-biased notions and sexism.
“People don’t expect me to balance all these things that my other guy friends are able to do,” she said. “It’s also a double standard thing. We’re expected to look a certain way and portray ourselves a certain way. We’re not supposed to do hardcore rough activities like guys.”
But she said many of her guy friends have recently become “woke” to the movement of female empowerment and a non-binary gender and have accepted ideas of equality.
“Before they would make jokes and make sexist comments,” Abadilla said. “ They are on board with this whole empower women thing.”
Heather Singleton, YWCA of Kauai board president, said Abadilla stood out from the other 14 scholarship candidates because she embodied female leadership and empowerment.
“She wants to go off to college, have experiences and bring that knowledge home,” Singleton said. “She wants to educate. She wants to work for a nonprofit. She really stood out because of her goals to come home.”
Abadilla said her biggest inspirations are her mother, who emigrated from the Philippines as a young girl and worked in a plantation, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
Gabbard sent her an inspirational message.
“There is no doubt in my mind that she will go on to do even greater things that will someday impact us all,” Gabbard wrote. “1998 marked the 150th anniversary of the Women’s Rights Movement in the United States. It was also the birth year of Athena Abadilla, who now 18 years later, has embraced and perpetuated the mission of the Women’s Rights Movement through her passion and devotion to justice.”