Pomp and circumstance, diploma and lei. All the grandeur of graduation. Never mind the graduates are only 3-feet-tall and come from families without a home.
Commencement exercises were held Thursday at the Oahu Veterans Center for some extra special students.
Granted, these grads are just getting going on their ABCs. But, commencement even more special because these 4- and 5-year-olds have overcome challenges other than just mastering numbers. They're children from homeless families who, with Ka Pa'alana Traveling Preschool, are now school ready.
"They’re so resilient. They often teach us what resiliency is all about,” said Danny Goya, Ka Pa’alana Project Manager.
This is the fifth graduation ceremony for Ka Pa'alana, but the first as a nationally-accredited preschool. They operate at several shelters, public housing projects and beaches on Oahu's west side.
“It’s a celebration of not just about the students, but a celebration about all these families, all your families, coming together to make a difference,” said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui.
Parents at Ka Pa’alana are also involved in the learning, because parents and caregivers are a child’s first and most influential teacher in their early years.
“I just thank God there’s people like this,” said Leo Leodew, a parent of preschool graduate, Leomomi.
As a single dad, Leodew said his daughter not only learned reading and writing. She learned them in Hawaiian.
“This is my baby’s first graduation, so yeah, I’m a proud dad,” said Leodew.
Ka Pa'alana serves about 700 children from 0 to 5 years old a year.
Unfortunately, the numbers are rising not just on the west side, but across the state.
“I always tell our staff, it’s our job to work ourselves out of a job. But unfortunately it’s not really the case,” said Goya.
There’s much more work ahead. But with the start these pint sized graduates are getting, they should have more diplomas in their future.
“There’s a chance that they’re going to see the 12th grade and they’re going to graduate from the 12th grade,” said Jaquanna Hernandez, Ka Pa’alana teaching assistant.
Ka Pa'alana right now serves seven different sites on Oahu's west side. And the program is looking to expand to shelters in town and on the neighbor islands.