Lessons from a graduate: Expand your horizons

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The following editorial was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sunday, June 2, 2019 as part of the "Raise Your Hand" column in the Insights section.

By: Mina Gusukuma, Kalani High School, Class of 2019

In the midst of the many ceremonies for the thousands of high school graduates, it is fitting to reflect on the experiences that have proved pivotal in my formative years. Knowing what I know now, I would urge my freshman self to become involved with everything I find remotely interesting and to take advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. Clubs, sports, and extracurricular activities are part of that. Experiences like Key Club, leadership classes, and conventions have all played a major role shaping who I want to become - a student that is excited and enthused for her future endeavours.

Kalani’s Key Club taught me to be grounded and humble in every situation. I’ll miss the dedication of getting up at 3 a.m. to volunteer at the Honolulu Marathon and seeing the pride of the runners after finally hitting the finish line. Participating in fundraisers and raising money for things that the we needed had created a newfound appreciation for our earnings. Setting up Halloween games for the children at Aina Haina Elementary School was a great experience that helped me to discover how much I enjoyed entertaining and working with kids. I wouldn't know how much volunteering is needed if I’d never took a chance.

In my freshman year, I was approached by my photography teacher to help photograph the 2016 IUCN World Conservation Congress held at the Convention Center. It was easily one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life. It was amazing to meet leaders from around the globe and witness them working together towards the common goal of protecting our only home. I was taught to appreciate sustainability and the science behind keeping a healthy planet.

It was through the networking of my leadership class, known as Center For Tomorrow's Leaders, that I was contacted by the project assistant of the annual Gals with Lei Forum. I was incredibly honored to be asked to sit on a panel with four accomplished, distinguished women. I’d just turned seventeen when I spoke at the conference and was easily the youngest person on the panel. Although I was yet to do some of the amazing, wonderful things that these women had done, I shared with the audience what little but meaningful things I had learned by just doing my best to be a well-rounded person. I explained the insight that I had gained from balancing school, two jobs, and my family and friends while trying to also figure out my passions. I felt confident speaking to the audience. There was a sense of relief knowing that these people were not there to judge me but chose to listen to what I had to say.

I know, if presented the opportunity, more students and youth could contribute their thoughts and experiences. This is why I'll always urge students to get involved in any way they can. Writing in a column like this is an experience I wish was given to every high school student, as it gives a voice and credible platform for difficult, yet needed conversations. It is crucial that both youth and adults share their input and work towards creating a better understanding of our shared society. The way that things are looking now, Hawai’i may need to make space for the positive change that our youth will bring because we are more accomplished than we've ever been.