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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 23, 2010

Eddie Kamae a grad at 82

by Stanley Lee
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

New graduate Eddie Kamae addressed his fellow Farrington High School graduates at yesterday’s commencement exercises. On the basis of life experience, the school granted him the final credit he needed to qualify.

KENT NISHIMURA | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Eddie Kamae stood up and left Farrington High School some 60 years ago, bored with school and ready to create his own journey in life. He was one credit short of receiving his diploma.

That journey led him to become an acclaimed 'ukulele virtuoso, a man synonymous with Hawaiian music, and a filmmaker.

Wearing a maroon gown like those of the school's graduating seniors and decked in lei, the 82-year-old Kamae officially completed his journey at Farrington yesterday afternoon. Kamae received his high school diploma at the school's commencement ceremony, showered by loud applause and shouts of "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie" from the class of 2010.

He had left Farrington in 1948.

"I said 'goodbye,' left to find my own way in life," Kamae said in an interview.

As a senior in 1945, Kamae was drafted and spent 18 months in the Army. He returned to Farrington to complete his last year, but discovered the week before commencement that he wouldn't make it.

"The final week before graduation , the teacher told me you can go to the whole process, but you can't get a diploma," Kamae said.

"I asked why and she said I lacked one credit."

On the first day of summer school, "I was bored. I sat down for a half-hour, 40 minutes, picked up my things and walked out of the class."

He became a member of the iconic The Sons of Hawai'i band, which played a role in the 1960s revival of Hawaiian culture. Music was embedded in him.

"It set my cause in life," Kamae said. "Music is the most important thing in my life. I get into all the things because it has connections with music. My first teacher was a songwriter. He told me the important things I should do and do it for the children, and that's why I do all my films and things. I do the recordings for the children."

Students in Farrington's Hawaiian Academy were already familiar with Kamae, having read his books in class.

Then he came to school this year and played for them.

"It was magical," said kumu Alohilani Okamura, director of the academy. "It brings them back to a time. The respect the kids have for him, a lot of the kids knew of him very remotely, but seeing that connection was amazing."

It was then that school officials learned he had been just short of graduating and surprised him by suggesting he receive his diploma.

"We felt his lifetime accomplishments were worthy of one credit, so we gave him that one credit and let him get that diploma," said Farrington principal Catherine Payne.

Payne said that when she informed the graduating class during their class assembly, "they spontaneously applauded."

"It's such an honor," Payne said. "I remember his album "Sons of Hawai'i" was the first Hawaiian music album I ever bought when I came to Hawai'i when I was a teenager , and that was my introduction to Hawaiian music. I just loved it and I still have the album and CD now. Meeting him in person was a thrill."

The Hawaiian Academy had a lū'au with Kamae on Friday night. Kamae donated books and CDs to the school yesterday.

"He taught us a lot, to be humble, to do our best, stay focused," said Farrington graduate Keoki Kama. "His music is beautiful . He's one of a kind. He's a Hawaiian celebrity ."

Hugging and taking photos of Kamae yesterday were family members and community leaders. The Keiki Palaka Band hugged Kamae and gave him a gift after he received his diploma from Payne.

"He never really gave up for 65 years and that's a pretty good conscience," said band member Danyel Yogi, 10. "He never gave up."

Added band member Mikah Bertelmann, 11: "He taught us to play a lot of songs. He wrote songs and then we learned how to play it."

Kamae described the entire experience as wonderful.

"All over now, I don't have to worry," he said.

As he walked off the stage with his diploma in hand, wife Myrna gently moved the tassel on his cap from right to left.

Kamae was finally a graduate.