Trisha Kehaulani Watson: Celebrating The Resilience Of The Class Of 2021 - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.


A couple years back, I was on Kauai during graduation season. If you’ve not been to the Garden Island or another rural community during graduation, you’re missing out. Hanging from front yard fences and posted along the highways are countless, colorful banners celebrating their high school seniors.

It’s like campaign season, just way, way better, as the pride of parents and families radiates from these banners. It’s like driving through joy, and it’s infectious in all the best ways.

I have one child, so we’ve spent years gearing up for a big senior year. He looked forward to prom. Homecoming. All the fanfare that leads up to the milestone of high school graduation.

Then COVID-19 happened.

It’s hard to think about all the instability and anxiety of the last year. We’ve surely not even begun to see the long-term effects this pandemic has had on our economy or collective emotional health as a society. During a time in which we all did our best to “keep calm and carry on,” perhaps under-recognized are the effects the year had on high school seniors.

My son took a baseline SAT at the beginning of his junior year, and as a result became one of the few lucky seniors who had any SAT score at all going into his senior year. Most standardized tests across the country were canceled as COVID-19 cases rose. As a result, many colleges waived the requirement of a standardized test score, but there wasn’t much that could be done for those students who relied on the test score to strengthen their college applications.

The year also was devastating for student athletes across the country, who eagerly awaited a senior year to showcase their talents for scouts and college coaches. Athletics, and the accompanying athletic scholarships, are the most viable road to attending college for students in many communities.

The pandemic took a heavy toll on high school seniors, but they rose to the challenge. Courtesy: Helen Perreira

Yet, somehow, these seniors found ways to navigate and even enjoy their senior years. Even when they could only hang out in small, masked groups of five or less, kids got together. They went hiking. They went to the beach.

They found a way to make the best of a truly horrible situation. They persisted and graduated. While the rest of the world was just trying to keep it together, these kids found a way to pave their futures. When you stop to think about it, it’s an awesome accomplishment.

As most mothers, I’m proud of my son regardless, but I have been simply amazed by his resilience. All his friends and classmates, from different schools and communities across the island, found ways to stay connected and healthy.

They demonstrated a level of resilience that I certainly didn’t have at their age. And as the age group least effected by COVID-19 from a health standpoint, they never once failed to appreciate the importance of doing their part to keep the people around them safe.

The Class of 2021 deserves special congratulations. Courtesy: Helen Perreira/2021

While every graduation deserves praise, I hope people make an extra effort to celebrate the high school graduates in their lives this year. Whether it’s watching a virtual graduation or making the time to attend the growing number of “drive-thru” events, make the effort.

Post in the comments. Post on your social media. Make a sign. Make a banner. Spread your pride and joy, because the world can certainly use lots of pride and joy right now.

Celebrate these kids, because they have truly done something amazing. And if this year has been precedent for the capacity of this rising generation to unite and lead, then the future is not only going to be bright – it’s going to be beautiful.

Congratulations to the Class of 2021!


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About the Author

Trisha Kehaulani Watson

Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.


Latest Comments (0)

Sister Kehaulani,  With the continuing love and care of his mother (whose price is far beyond rubies), family, mentors, and community of FAITH, your cherished child will exponentially add to the distinguished familial legacy of hard work, can-do spirit, excellence, exemplary performance, exceptionalism, and integrity.  Let us celebrate this victory surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones that continue to inspire us, encourage us, positively motivate us, instill pride in our being, and spiritually/intellectually/emotionally uplift our spirits.  Let us show your son and my nephew Puniawa Kuloloio Vedder from Kamehameha Schools Maui how to soar with the eagles from Pohaku Palaha, the King’s Trail in Haleakala, land at Pu’u Lo for some champagne (Pog juice for the keiki), then cross the Kiha’api’ilani Trail from Palauea, to Maluaka, over Pu’u O Kanaloa, across the Alenuihaha to Pahe’e o Lono at Molokini, and across the Alalakeiki to Moa’ula Iki, Ahupu Iki, Pu’u Moiwi (the adze quarry), Honoko’a, Keanakeiki, Kealaikahiki, and land at Honokanai’a, Kanaloa Kaho’olawe -  our ancestral inheritance of Honua’ula, Maui, Hawai’i.  LA’A; MA’A; PA’A!  Aloha Ke Akua, Uncle Manny WMD Kuloloia

Manuel.Kuloloia · 1 week ago

Nice article Trisha.  I do feel for the class of 2021 who lost a portion of their junior year as well as their entire senior year to the pandemic.  The one thing I disagree with you on is your statement that sports is the only viable option for students, in certain communities, to attend college.  Only a VERY small percentage of Hawaii high school athletes will actually obtain full-ride scholarships in college.  Next, today, a college education is available to those who are willing to work hard for it.  There is the "early college" program in Hawaii where public high school students can earn college credits, and graduate with their high school diplomas AND their A.A. degrees at the same time.  There are scholarships and financial aid for minority and financially challenged families.  But many of these options are dependent on a student working hard and earning good grades.  In the same way athletes put in extra time lifting weights and running, they need to put in the extra time reading and studying on their own.  It doesn’t take any money or privilege to borrow and read books from the public library.   Education is available to nearly anyone if a person truly wants it.

ckn · 1 week ago

At least the Class of 2021 had a somewhat real graduation; what the class of 2020 went through has quickly been forgotten . . .

Harvey · 1 week ago

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