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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, January 1, 2003

Amazing teens

By Zenaida Serrano Espanol
Advertiser Staff Writer

When these teens are told they'll do great things one day, they can respond with confidence that they already did so in 2002.

Within the past year, these Hawai'i students made the news with their inspiring stories, including a shark-attack survivor, founders of a high school Gay-Straight Alliance and math bowl moral victors.

They also made headlines as up-and-comers we need to keep our eyes on, including a golfing prodigy, national award-winning playwright and budding filmmaker.

Advertiser staffers from various sections recommended these youths, worth recognizing a second time around.

Raiatea Helm, 18

Raiatea Helm: Her voice has been compared to those of Genoa Keawe and Lena Machado.
Her sweet falsetto voice — featured on her Nov. 12 debut release "Raiatea: Far Away Heaven" — has been compared to Genoa Keawe's, Lena Machado's and Leina'ala Haili's.

Raiatea Helm of Kalama'ula, Moloka'i, considers such comparisons a big compliment, but she insists on developing her own style.

"I don't want to be like anyone," she said. She is inspired not only by Hawaiian musicians, but also artists such as Celine Dion and Charlotte Church.

Helm acknowledges that her sound isn't typical for island teen musicians, but it's something she's proud of.

"Falsetto has the ha'i, and that's what I like about it — that break," she said. "It's like yodeling. That's the neat thing about falsetto, because not that many people can do the ha'i, and it's really cool."

She discovered her talent just two years ago.

"It just came out," she said. "I didn't take lessons or classes. Nothing at all. I just imitated other people."

Her father, Zachary, calls her a natural.

"What she offers is pure Hawaiian at heart," he said. "Her voice is so pure and sweet."

Helm is in her first year at Maui Community College, where she's pursuing a liberal arts degree.

"I'm thinking about taking on business later, but I want to pursue my musical career as much as possible and as long as I can," she said.

Ivy Ka'anana, 18

Ivy ka'anana: Baldwin High graduate took a stand when she challenged graduation-ceremony dress restrictions.
Ivy Ka'anana is a fighter — a title she wasn't looking for the day she asked officials at Baldwin High School in Maui if she could wear shorts or slacks instead of a dress to her May 31 graduation ceremony.

But when she was told that she would not be allowed to participate in the ceremony if she did not adhere to the dress code, she refused to take "no" for an answer.

"That was very unfair, very unfair," said Ka'anana, of Kahului. "For me, that was like, my hopes just went all down the drain for one little thing. Like I worked for something, for nothing."

At one point, the American Civil Liberties Union offered to file a gender discrimination lawsuit on behalf of Ka'anana.

"I wasn't fighting (to) make a big deal about it ... I just was fighting for what I believe in, for my rights," said Ka'anana, who added that she had never worn a dress before.

Helen Rosaga, Ka'anana's mother, said she supported her daughter throughout the conflict.

"I'm proud that she hung in there because it was very hard for her," Rosaga said. "I told her, 'Just hold your head up high and just be proud that you finished school.' "

When Ka'anana learned that the area superintendent who oversees Baldwin High had overruled the school's decision, she was thrilled. She wore a dress shirt and khaki shorts to the ceremony.

The lesson she hopes others learn from her experience: "Never give up, and always fight for what you believe in."

Kaiser High School's Math Bowl XXIV Team

Kaiser High School Math Team: Integrity of these three led them to report a scoring error that cost them first place in a competition.
Vallent Lee, Shinyoung Oh and Claire Tsutsumi — now freshmen at Harvard University, New York University and the University of Washington, respectively — did something as Kaiser High seniors that caused quite a stir.

The trio, former members of Kaiser High's math team, had been declared winners of the statewide Math Bowl XXIV that took place in May. But they kept the title for just moments, after revealing a scoring error that dropped them from first place. After a tie-breaker, they took third place in the competition.

The move, however, earned the students more praise and recognition. "In the Olympics, sometimes you don't always remember the winners, but you always remember those that faced adversity," Kaiser High principal Gayle Sugita said shortly after the incident.

Both Lee and Oh said they were simply doing what was right.

"If we had hidden the error and taken first place, I would have been ecstatic at that moment, but my conscience would still be bothering me to this day," Oh wrote via e-mail from New York. "In that sense, I learned first-hand that moral decisions may not have immediate returns but pay dividends in the long run."

Kalaheo High School's Gay-Straight Alliance

Kalaheo High School Gay-straight Alliance: The club, which met early resistance from school officials, became the first Hawai'i public school to openly refer to sexual orientation in its name when it was founded in February.
Diversity is a beautiful thing, according to nearly a dozen Kalaheo High students who fought hard to establish the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Member Krystopher Lomu, a 17-year-old senior, said the club was established "basically to lend a helping hand out there for teenagers who kind of didn't feel safe, to say that we're here and we're supportive, and just to make the campus a little more aware."

The Kalaheo club, founded in February, became the first in a Hawai'i public school to openly refer to sexual orientation in its name.

"In today's world, where kids don't always stand for things, I'm really proud of them," club co-adviser Sue Reardon said. "They fought hard and they risked being ostracized by fellow students. ... I think it took a lot of courage."

Reardon said students had a difficult time establishing the club because of resistance at the administrative level, but they finally gained acceptance months later, with help from parents, a minister, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"It was hard for us to get where we are at right now and to keep it as a club," Lomu said. "But it's just like, if you want to do something, you have to stick with it."

Derrick Low, 16

Derrick Low: Scored 33 points to lead Iolani over Kalaheo for state championship.
When Derrick Low handles a basketball, great things happen.

Among the Iolani School junior's noteworthy achievements was scoring 33 points to lead the Raiders to a 58-57 victory over Kalaheo High School and the Hawaiian Airlines State Basketball Championship in February. Low was just a sophomore at the time.

"I've been playing since first grade," the point guard said. "Basketball is my best hobby."

It's a hobby that Low, of Honolulu, hopes to turn into a career someday.

"I know I'm going to go to a good college to play basketball, a Division I college," he said. "After that ... I want to take my game to the next level and hopefully play professional."

Low constantly aims to improve his game.

"When I watch people, for instance, people like (Utah Jazz guard) John Stockton or (Dallas Mavericks guard) Steve Nash, I like to see how they play and I like to compare myself to them," Low said. "I tell myself, 'I think I play just like him' ... and I just imagine myself doing what they're doing."

Robert Rath, 18

Robert Rath: Budding playwright earns respect for his creative ideas and witty writing.
Castle High School senior Robert Rath is jockeying between writing two plays: "One is about a bunch of guys who create their own religion to sell it on eBay, and the other is, in a nutshell, basically just oppressed mimes and communist clowns," he said.

Creative and original ideas such as these that have earned Rath, of Kane'ohe, recognition for his witty play-writing skills.

Rath was one of 10 winners — the youngest at the time — of the 2000 Young Playwrights Festival National Playwriting Competition for his play "Spiffy," which he wrote when he was 14 years old. His most recent work, "Curtains for the Dragon," was one of four featured plays at Hawai'i Theatre for Youth's Theatrefest, an annual production of plays by teenage playwrights.

Daniel A. Kelin, II, director of drama education for Honolulu Theatre for Youth, who has known Rath for nearly a decade, says Rath has a fierce dedication.

"This is someone who will do something. You just have to watch out for people like that," Kelin said.

The next major project for Rath, who graduates this year, is deciding which university to attend. He has sent applications "everywhere from UH to NYU," he said. "I'm thinking about majoring in either creative writing or fiction, with some film courses on the side."

Sean Terry, 17

Sean Rerry: Filmmaker was a finalist in 'Ohina Short Film Showcase with "Winning Style."
Sean Terry tried his hand at acting, drawing and photography, but never found his forte. Until he delved into filmmaking.

"I've been interested in a lot of varied fields, but filmmaking was sort of the one thing that combined all of my interests into one single art form," the Moanalua resident said.

It seems the Iolani School senior has found his forte. His first major project, "Winning Style," was one of 13 finalists selected among 50 entries for October's 'Ohina Short Film Showcase.

The 18 1/2-minute piece about a high school student who has to fight for the girl he loves received rave reviews for its clever, often comedic story and well-choreographed martial arts scenes.

"It was really tongue-in-cheek, and (I liked) the fact that there was a cuteness or innocence to it," said showcase executive director Jeff Katts, who added that Terry was the youngest director at the event.

The movie was shown last month at Rough Cut, a high school video festival at The Art House at Restaurant Row.

"Don Brown (who books the films at The Art House) personally asked me for my movie, so I guess that's a pretty big honor," Terry said.

Terry — whose role models include Larry and Andy Wachowski ("The Matrix") and Hideo Kojima ("Metal Gear Solid" video games) — is eyeing film schools at University of South Carolina, New York University or Chapman University.

"A lot of good things are going for that kid," Katts said. "Maybe he'll get an Academy Award one day."

Ben and Jacob Washofsky, 17 and 14

Jacob and Ben Washofsky: The brothers from Enchanted Lake have given youngsters a chance to get involved by organizing a Seder, or Passover dinner, for kids.
Come next Passover, the Washofsky brothers of Enchanted Lake will once again welcome visitors to a Seder unlike most.

The Seder is a feast that commemorates the exodus of the Jews from Egypt, celebrated on either the first or first two nights of Passover.

For the past seven years, the boys have been leading keiki Seders, started by parents Craig and Dana "because the regular Seder, if you just do it straight by the book, it's kind of tedious. And for a kid who's 4 or 5, tedious is bad," said Jacob, an eighth-grader at Le Jardin Academy.

Every year 40 guests, including about 15 children, go to the Washofsky home on the first Saturday of Passover for this kid-centric dinner, where the youngest generation sits at the head of the table and leads the prayers, using age-appropriate text.

"It gives kids an opportunity to get involved at an early age," said older brother Ben, a Punahou School senior.

Dana Washofsky describes the boys as natural leaders. Jacob also serves as middle-school president, while Ben co-founded a group for Jewish teens called Honolulu and O'ahu Temple Youth, which is part of Temple Emanu-El.

Rabbi Avi Magid of Temple Emanu-El also thinks quite highly of the Washofsky brothers and their work.

"The two boys sparkle," Magid said. "I just feel like the luckiest rabbi to have the kind of teenagers that we have. They're totally awesome."

Michelle Wie, 13

Michelle Wie: The youngest ever to qualify for an LPGA tournament as a seventh-grader.
Michelle Wie has turned many heads on both the local and national golf scenes, and rightfully so. The Punahou School eighth-grader has been breaking records left and right, and she's only two months into teenhood (her 13th birthday was in October).

In 2002, while only 12, Wie played in three Ladies Professional Golf Association events. At the Takefuji Classic at Waikoloa, she became the youngest ever to qualify for an LPGA tournament.

In June at the USGA Women's Amateur Public Links Championship in Oregon, Wie also became the youngest semifinalist in the history of any women's amateur championship conducted by the United States Golf Association.

While Wie thinks her youth and inexperience work against her, she tries her darndest to beat the best of the best. The Hawai'i Kai resident's most recent wins include the Hawai'i State Open on Nov. 17 at Makena and the Hawai'i State Junior Golf Association's Tournament of Champions on Dec. 8 at Wailea.

"I'm a really good ball striker, and I play pretty good under pressure," she said. "I practice every day for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours."

It's practice that Wie hopes will lend to achieving her first goal this year: the 2003 Sony Open in Hawai'i Pro-Junior Challenge.

"She is capable of doing it," said Wie's father, BJ. "Her skill is really advanced ... so there's a good possibility."

Hoku Aki, 18

Hoku Aki: Positive attitude is characteristic of the Kaua'i shark-attack victim.
Ripping out a shark's eye to escape death was enough indication that nothing could stop Hoku Aki.

The 2002 graduate of Kaua'i High School received local and national media attention after losing his left leg to a shark while bodysurfing March 25 at Brennecke's Beach at Po'ipu.

His story of survival was amazing and inspiring, to say the least, and the then-17-year-old continued to make headlines with his rapid recovery and ever-positive attitude.

The attack seemed to be just a minor bump in the road as Aki thrived after returning home to Kaua'i. He was May Day king May 3, performed with a group called Elima Miu at the "Star Quest" high school talent contest May 4 at Stan Sheriff Center at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, and even announced plans to make an album of Hawaiian reggae (he writes music and sings, and plays drums, 'ukulele, bass and keyboards).

"I can't just stop my life because of it," Aki told The Advertiser while he was still recovering at The Queen's Medical Center. "You've just got to keep going, you just make the best of it, yeah? And I'm willing to do that."