RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
Before the start of Legacy Day ceremonies yesterday at the chapel at Kamehameha Schools, Alyson Hiapo, a 1973 graduate, placed a lei in front of the portrait of Bernice Pauahi Bishop.
Supporters vow to protect the
Kamehameha Schools graduates and supporters gathered yesterday to commemorate Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop and pool strength for an upcoming legal challenge to the schools' admission policy.
"We come together to begin a historical and challenging week," Adrian Kamalii, the event's co-organizer, told about 75 attendees yesterday at Kamehameha's Kapalama campus chapel. "This day, 121 years ago, began Pauahi's legacy. ... We are at a pivotal point in history that could change this legacy."
On Thursday the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals will begin hearing oral arguments by attorneys of a non-Hawaiian student who is seeking to overturn the school's admission policy, which gives preference to those of native Hawaiian ancestry.
Some say an adverse ruling in the case would jeopardize the mission of the $6 billion charitable trust, which was founded by Bishop's will.
But Kamehameha Schools leaders have said they are optimistic the 9th Circuit will uphold the U.S. District Court's November 2003 ruling that the Hawaiian-preference policy serves to remedy past and present ills suffered by native Hawaiians as a result of Western contact.
Many at yesterday's service were also confident the policy would win out, saying Bishop made the admission preference clear in her will.
"They always tell you to make a will for your family. If they continue to ask you to do that, why is that her will is being contested in court?" asked Ellie Keola, a 1980 Kamehameha Schools graduate.
"They should be able to admit who they want," said Ruth Yong, who is not native Hawaiian. "I don't feel it's discrimination." Yong said her husband, who is native Hawaiian, and oldest son are graduates of Kamehameha, and her daughter is now a junior at the Kapalama campus high school.
"I am optimistic," she added. "Sometimes, you know what's right."
Graduate alumni office assistant Gerry Johansen said she and her family would not be as well off as they are today without Kamehameha Schools.
"I'm here to protect the legacy of Pauahi, which is to carry on her mission," said Johansen, who graduated from Kamehameha along with her husband and two children. "I have a lot of faith and would think that what is right will prevail."
She also said the case, along with a similar challenge seeking to abolish the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, have brought native Hawaiians together.
"It shows that we are on the same page," she said, "and what we feel in our hearts."
The hour-long service yesterday included hymns in Hawaiian and a reading of parts of Bishop's will. There will be a similar prayer session on Thursday at the Stan Sheriff Center from 7 to 8 a.m. The case starts at 9 a.m., and Kamalii said there are 22 first-come, first-served seats open to the public.