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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

Small-town kids should go for it and think big

June is graduation month, a time for graduation speeches from politicians, academic leaders, business figures and, on occasion, a journalist or two. Here's a sampling of what Advertiser columnist Lee Cataluna had to say to the Waimea High School Class of 2001 on Kaua'i.

By Lee Cataluna
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaiian-style, I want to start by telling you where I come from. My father is Donald Cataluna, who used to be with Olokele Sugar and now works for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. My mother is Dorothy Cataluna, who I'm sure many of you had as a substitute teacher growing up. My sister Malia is a graduate of Waimea High School. My grandmother on my mother's side was Mary Lemes Ferreira, who was born and raised in Pakala. My tutu on my father's side was Mabel Vidinha, daughter of Antone Vidinha and Alohakeao Nu'uhiwa, who came from the west side of Kaua'i. Even though I was born and raised on Maui, my family is from this 'aina, this moku, and I'm sure I'm cousins with many of you. We are all connected. And if we don't share blood, then I'm sure we share the same red dirt coursing through our veins.

Tonight marks a milestone for you. It is a passage into adulthood. I have great respect for what you have accomplished, and I hope you truly feel that respect and pride for yourself.

Being a high school graduate sets you apart. Last week, I spoke at a high school graduation for adults on O'ahu. Four hundred adults, many of them in their 30s, 40s and 50s, got their high school diplomas. It was powerful to witness their pride in accomplishment. It was so clear what being a high school graduate meant to these people.

But though you should be proud tonight, you should not at all be satisfied with yourself.

I hope you don't mind that I speak with you frankly, as adults. After all, we are family.

There's something that happens to those of us who grow up on the Neighbor Islands. We get this Neighbor Island mentality, and it isn't always a good thing. We think that because we come from a small town, we are, by our very nature, small.

Nothing could be further from the truth, but I'll tell you, what you believe about yourself might as well be fact. If you think you no can, then you no can.

Lots of times, we Neighbor Island people settle for less. We demand less of life, we demand less of ourselves. We dream small dreams for ourselves, or sometimes, we don't dream at all. It's a trap, and I pray none of you fall victim to it.

Your classmate Joshua Uyehara is going away to Harvard University next year. That is a wonderful accomplishment, but it's a sad thing that we're actually surprised that a Waimea boy could make it into Harvard. It should be no surprise that a small-town kid could do such big things. You all can. Every one. You can do and be and accomplish anything you want, and don't you let anyone tell you otherwise.

I'll tell you a story that greatly affected me. I went to college in California, and when I came home, I came home to Kaua'i. My family lived here when I was in elementary school, so I had a friend I knew from the fifth grade. When I came home from school, I called her up to talk story. "So, what you going do now, Miss College Graduate?" she asked.

I told her I wasn't sure yet, that I wanted to go back to school and get an advanced degree, that maybe I'd go into teaching. I was amazed at how quickly she shot me down: "You like be one teacha?" she said. "What, you think you smart?"

Yes. Yes I did think I was smart. I knew it. Why was that perceived to be a bad thing?

I'm not talking about being boastful or snobbish or tantaran or borot or any of those things. I'm talking about self-esteem, about confidence in who you are, about believing in yourself and your abilities. All healthy things. All things that make you a better person, a happier person, a better contributor to your family and to society and just a generally nicer person to be around.

Why would anyone think that's a bad thing?

I'm sure you've all heard the analogy of the 'alamihi crabs in the bucket, how the fisherman doesn't even have to put a lid on the bucket because the crabs don't let each other climb out. When one gets near the top, the others pull it down with pinchers and claws.

Don't you let the crabs keep you down. Don't let anyone tell you you cannot do something or you're not good enough or your just a small-town kid so you're not allowed to have big dreams. You can. In many ways, you have many advantages over big-city kids. You know much more about life, about family, about connectedness. You have much to offer this world.

And I'll tell you something else. In the analogy of the crabs and the bucket, Waimea is not the bucket. The thing you need to climb up and out of is negativity, small-mindedness, all the obstacles that hold you back from being your very best self. You can live to your highest potential right here in this small town with its abundant sunlight, rich soil and shining water.

The bucket you need to stay out of is inside your own heads and hearts.

Don't let the crabs keep you down. And don't you be a crab to anyone else, either. If you ever catch yourself stomping on someone else's dream, stop and think about what it is about yourself that is making you unhappy. What dream are you too afraid to live? Why are you so jealous of someone else who is brave enough to live theirs?

Tonight, you should be proud, but don't be satisfied. You are standing at the threshold of your future. The world is wide open to you, more so now than probably at any other time in your life. You can be who you want to be, you can listen to that voice in your heart that cries out to your highest calling. High school graduation isn't so much the end of something as it is the beginning of the rest of your life. Have the courage to make your life mean something. Have the courage to be the kind of person that this small little town is proud of.

This is where you're from, Waimea, a small town with a huge heart. You have an obligation to make Waimea proud of you. Tonight, Waimea is proud, but if this is the best you ever do in your life, you're wasting your time. Go out and be the best chef, the best firefighter, the best business owner, the best engineer, the best parent, the best whatever your heart calls you to be.

You owe it to this small town, you owe it to your family, but most of all, you owe it to yourself.