Legacy of service


POSTED: Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A role model has the leadership, social consciousness and the innate desire to help others. To many students at Punahou, President-elect Barack Obama possesses these qualities as a role model for public service. From his early years in Chicago as a community organizer to his policies today, Punahou students use his life and lessons as inspiration to make Hawaii a better place.






Ka Punahou


Faculty Adviser
Maureen MacLeod


Kimberly Lee and Julie Yamashiro


1601 Punahou St.
Honolulu 96822


James K. Scott




Buff and blue


3,750 (grades K-12)



In April 2004, the Punahou Luke Center for Public Service was built as a resource center, offering projects from service learning to sustainability curriculum. This year the center is focusing on social entrepreneurship, helping people become creative problem-solvers to address local issues. Terry Yamamoto Edwards, the assistant director of the Luke Center for Public Service said, “;The Punahou community has always strived to reach outside our school and walls. Now, especially as I work with student leaders from grades seven through 12, having Barack Obama as a role model is phenomenal.”;

To fully comprehend Obama's influence today, it is necessary to understand his legacy in public service.

Barack Obama first emerged as a service leader in 1983 in Chicago. Postponing his graduate education, he devoted time to organizations like the Altgeld Gardens Public Housing project in Chicago, where he worked to improve living conditions. In his book “;Dreams From My Father,”; Obama described the 2,000 brick apartments “;in a perpetual state of despair.”;

A few months later, Obama was appointed the director of the Developing Communities Project, which was mandated to increase adult literacy, decrease alcohol and drug consumption and provide leadership for women.

Obama's efforts have inspired many Punahou students to organize school and statewide service projects of their own.

“;Pretty much every service project I have participated in has been influenced by President-elect Obama,”; senior John Jiao said. “;It goes back to his speech at Punahou four years ago, expressing his hope that we all would become involved in our communities.”;

Students were captivated when Obama, then a senator, spoke at Punahou in 2004. “;I had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Barack Obama in a special chapel session,”; sophomore Daniel Dangaran said. “;The piece of advice he gave me that I remember most and will always remember is 'dream big.' He told me that if I wanted to be a doctor, try to find the cure for cancer, and if I wanted to be a lawyer, to aim to be a Supreme Court justice.

“;I use this mantra 'dream big' when I think about doing service. I really want to do as much as I can to serve my community. I try to be selfless, because it is easiest to impact others when you don't consider your own desires. Barack Obama has made me think about service as a necessity in my life since that day.”;

At the Service Nation Presidential Candidates Forum on Sept. 11, 2008, held at Columbia University, Obama reflected on his organizer years, “;You know, when I think about the choice I made as a 23-, 24-year-old, to spend three years working with churches, to help people ... it was the best education I ever had because it taught me that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they're given a chance and when they're brought together. And that's something I want to encourage for every young person. I want every young person around this country to recognize they will not fulfill their full potential until they hitch their wagon to something bigger.”;

Punahou students have hitched their wagons onto goals emulating those of Obama. “;Throughout my life, politics was always on a back burner, for it seemed like such a distant thing,”; sophomore Chad Kamisugi said. “;Only these past two years have I become interested in what politics was all about. It wasn't so much because I favored one candidate over the other, but rather I was enthralled by the fact that a person, raised in the state of Hawaii, who also attended Punahou, could even have the opportunity to run for the highest office in our nation.”;

Although many students credit Obama for their passion for community service, some believe he does not affect them directly.

“;President-elect Obama has not personally inspired me to be the service leader that I am,”; said freshman Nicole Adolpho. “;But I believe that he can and will inspire many others to become great service leaders like himself.”;

Through message and example, Barack Obama has influenced the Punahou community and world. He stands as a role model for public service to most students and constantly reminds them of the endless opportunities available.

“;We have always balanced the tradition of individual responsibility and self-reliance with notions of community and love for country, in part because of voluntary associations,”; he said at the closing of his Sept. 11 speech. “;What it's done is it allowed people to exercise the freedom to determine the direction of their communities, but still recognizing that we are part of a common project, of creating a better life for the next generation.”;