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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 2:33 p.m., Saturday, May 19, 2007

1st non-Hawaiian graduates from Kamehameha on Maui

The Maui News

WAILUKU — Kalani Rosell proudly accepts the distinction of being the first non-Hawaiian to graduate from Kamehameha Schools Maui, The Maui News reported.

"It's been an amazing experience, a unique experience I don't want to ever forget," said the 17-year-old, who was born on Maui with Italian and Swedish roots.

Rosell's admission to the Maui campus in 2002 generated a heated debate in the community and forced Kamehameha's board of trustees to defend its recruiting efforts on Maui, its admissions procedures and its preference policy for Native Hawaiians.

The trustees and the school's administrators explained at the time that Rosell had been selected to its Class of 2007 after a list of qualified Hawaiian students had been exhausted.

"It didn't even occur to us that it would be a problem," Rosell recalled Friday, just a week before he's due to graduate with his classmates at Kamehameha Schools Maui.

Kalani's mother, Maura Rosell, recalled how she and her husband, John, were overjoyed that their only son had been accepted to the prestigious school. Kamehameha's admissions office staff had told them months before that "sure, anybody can apply," she said.

Kalani said he had been encouraged by his 7th-grade classmates at Iao School who were also applying to Kamehameha.

"I heard of the school, and knew I could get a top education," he said.

Race was never an issue, according to the Rosells, and in fact, they recall indicating on Kalani's application to Kamehameha that he was Caucasian with no Hawaiian blood. The fact that he wasn't Hawaiian was never brought up, Kalani said.

Alumni and parents expressed anger and frustration after hearing that a non-Hawaiian student was accepted. They organized a petition drive that called for a review of the admissions policies to maintain opportunities for Hawaiian students. No other non-Hawaiian has been admitted to the Maui campus since Kalani enrolled.

"The big outcry was a surprise," Maura Rosell said.

Kalani said he consulted with a Hawaiian teacher at Iao School, who told him he had "earned" his spot at Kamehameha and should go forward with enrolling at the school.

"I never felt like I did something wrong," he said.

After deciding to accept the admissions, Maura Rosell insisted that Kalani give the school his best.

"I told him his work ethic has to be excellent, super excellent," she said.

Kalani agreed.

"It was an honor to be there and I knew I had to do my best," he said.

The first day at the Pukalani campus was one of the hardest for him. Kalani's knees were shaking as his parents drove up into the school driveway. They noticed five police cars lined up outside the campus entrance, "just in case something were to happen" with Kalani's arrival.

At age 12, he insisted that he enter the campus unescorted. Maura Rosell said she cried as she watched her son walk with his head down into a Kamehameha classroom for the very first time.

"I thought that boy is strong," Maura Rosell recalled. "I trust his soul. I trust the strength he had."

Maura said she continues to rely on Kalani's strength, especially today with her husband, John, fighting lung cancer on the Mainland. John Rosell will not be present for his son's graduation ceremonies May 26 at the Pukalani campus.

"I feel a little regret, but it's much more important for him to continue his treatments there," Kalani said.

Eventually, the family will be reunited in Connecticut when Kalani enrolls at Yale University on a full scholarship. John Rosell is scheduled for more intensive cancer treatment at the medical facility at Yale.

It was among the factors to consider. Kalani was offered full four-year scholarships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech University.

Kalani said he plans to pursue studies in international environmental engineering and law. He's also been told he has a spot on Yale's swim team, after being among the top swimmers in the Maui Interscholastic League.

If he wants, Kalani can indulge in classes in drama and art, and continue his love for ballet.

His many high school accomplishments include being named a National Merit Scholarship finalist. He's been selected three times for the Joffrey Ballet Summer Intensive National Programs in New York City. In one review, a critic noted that at age 16, Rosell was the youngest person ever accepted into the prestigious ballet program.

"If he wants, he can be to ballet what Michelle Wie is to golf," the critic wrote.

In athletics, Rosell has excelled at both swimming and track on both the Maui Interscholastic League and state levels. He has also excelled at long-distance swimming competitions and triathlons.

As a member of the Maui Ki-Aikido Society, Kalani holds the rank of 5th Kyu in the Japanese martial art.

An avid reader, Kalani was tapped for the Yale Book Award for writing. On his iPod, he has more than 5,000 songs from artists worldwide with a special fondness for Italian singers.

Kalani has traveled to Europe, with a focus on history, friends and relatives, sports and eating.

He's also been involved in the community, volunteering for fundraising projects for Special Olympics, in the Maui Visitor Industry Charity Walk and in public performance to increase interest in the arts.

All through his schooling at Kamehameha, his parents have been an integral, supportive force. The three — mom, dad and son — drove the daily commute between their Wailuku home and the Pukalani campus together. At times, Kalani needed to be driven to early-morning swim training sessions in Lahaina before heading Upcountry for school.

Kalani credited Kamehameha Schools for preparing him academically for the future, and instructing him in Hawaiian values — respect and gratitude for people and land. His favorite motto comes from a Hawaiian proverb that translates: "Be grateful for what you have."

"They reminded us all the time that we shouldn't take things for granted and always remember you have a gift," he said.

Kalani said his first days at Kamehameha were difficult. Students would not talk to him. That quickly changed, he said, and he says his friends at the campus now call him "Snowy" as a term of endearment.

The relationships have developed into camaraderie — "the close feeling of ohana, of family. The school is small so you know almost everybody. Every teacher is like a parent or relative, and each student is like a brother or sister."

The result is his childhood on Maui has been a positive experience.

"I never grew up thinking I'm a white boy, I'm different. I never felt myself as an outsider," he said.

While its Hawaiians-preference admissions policy has been challenged, Kamehameha Schools has been successful so far in maintaining the 120-year-old policy. There is a cost. Last week, the school settled with the family of a Caucasian boy who challenged the admissions policy, ending a civil suit that was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Rosells would not discuss the policy, focusing on what the school has provided to them by accepting Kalani.

Maura Rosell said Kalani's accomplishments at Kamehameha and in the community have made her proud.

"I am glad I trusted him and his decision. He grew into a wonderful young man," she said.

For more Maui news, visit The Maui News.