Kalani Rosell, 17, will be the first non-Hawaiian to graduate from Kamehameha Schools Maui. CLICK FOR LARGE
Kamehameha-Maui grad is first non-Hawaiian
Non-Hawaiian Kalani Rosell calls his stay at the school "an honor"
Despite the controversy it created, the first non-Hawaiian to be admitted to Kamehameha Schools Maui said the teachers and other students there feel like family.
Kalani Rosell, 17, who was born on Maui and is of Italian and Swedish heritage, will graduate this month. He will attend Yale University this fall.
"Every teacher is like a parent or relative, and each student is like a brother or sister," Rosell said.
The decision to admit Rosell, after a list of qualified Hawaiian students was exhausted, caused an uproar with many parents and alumni saying Kamehameha was neglecting native Hawaiians.
WAILUKU, Maui -- The first non-Hawaiian to graduate from Kamehameha Schools Maui said he knew he had to do his best when he enrolled in the prestigious private school system dedicated to educating children of Hawaiian ancestry.
Kalani Rosell, 17, graduates next week, five years after his acceptance by the school sparked a debate about Kamehameha's recruiting efforts and admissions policies.
Rosell's mother, Maura Rosell, told the Maui News she insisted her son give the school his best.
"I told him his work ethic has to be excellent, super excellent," she said.
Rosell, who was born on Maui and is of Italian and Swedish heritage, agreed, saying "It was an honor to be there and I knew I had to do my best."
Rosell is due to attend Yale University, where he plans to study environmental engineering and law.
Kamehameha's decision to admit Rosell in 2002 forced the schools board of trustees to defend its recruiting efforts on Maui, its admissions procedures and its preference policy for native Hawaiians.
The trustees and the schools 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.
Alumni and parents 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 Rosell enrolled.
Other campuses have admitted some non-Hawaiian students in the past. There were three or four in the 1920s, and the children of faculty who were non-Hawaiian were allowed to enroll in the 1950s and '60s.
"It didn't even occur to us that it would be a problem," Rosell recalled Friday.
Rosell's mother 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.
Rosell said he had been encouraged by his seventh-grade classmates at Iao School who also were applying to Kamehameha.
Race was never an issue, according to the Rosells. They recall indicating on his application to Kamehameha that he was Caucasian with no Hawaiian blood.
Rosell said he consulted with a Hawaiian teacher at Iao School, who told him he had "earned" his spot at Kamehameha and should enroll.
"I never felt like I did something wrong," he said.
The first day at the Pukalani campus was one of the hardest for him. Rosell's knees were shaking as his parents drove up into the school driveway. They noticed five police cars lined up outside the campus entrance.
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 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 her son's strength, especially today with her husband, John, fighting lung cancer on the mainland. John Rosell will miss his son's graduation ceremony Saturday.
The family will be reunited in Connecticut when Rosell enrolls at Yale on a full scholarship and his father undergoes cancer treatment at the university's hospital.
Rosell 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."
Rosell 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."
Non-Hawaiian students have sued Kamehameha to challenge its 120-year-old policy giving admissions preference to Hawaiians but the school has so far successfully upheld its tradition.
Last week, the school settled with the family of a Caucasian boy, ending a civil suit that was pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.