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I'm Very Blessed: An ‘Aiea High Graduate Reflects On Education And Opportunity

This reflection was written by Kailen Shinmoto, a former student of Phillip Hon (Hawai‘i Corps ’11). Kailen is currently a first-year, physics student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. He graduated from ‘Aiea High School this past May.

Phil and Kailen

By The TFA Editorial Team

January 25, 2018

After my first semester of college, I had the chance to come back to Hawai‘i during my winter break. It was a breath of fresh air to not have to worry about completing assignments or studying for finals. I loved seeing my family and friends again. Of course, I was asked many questions about how college was going, interesting experiences in Los Angeles, and the most dreaded question, “How are your grades?” Overall, it’s been an interesting transition from high school to college. While I’ve enjoyed the freedom (maybe a little too much), I have also had to adjust to a level of personal responsibility and academic demand I’ve never experienced before. Whether scheduling appointments with professors, learning about the philosophy of art, or just interacting with people who have had extremely different lives from me, it has all been a really big change.

When I caught up with Mr. Hon (who I now like to call Phil) over break, I shared with him how I’ve grown much more as a person. Specifically, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned about what I’m capable of, which is actually a lot, and how different my life experiences are relative to my peers. In the six years I’ve known Mr. Hon, he’s always encouraged me to think more about the experiences and opportunities available in the world. He pushed (or forced) me to apply to highly selective schools, when I was worried about tuition cost. He believed in my ability to get into schools that weren’t even on my radar, which ultimately led me to attending Occidental College pretty much for free.

Occidental College is a selective, private liberal arts college with a lower-than-average acceptance rate. You have to be a pretty good student to get in, and as one of the few public school students from Hawai’i in my class, I consider myself lucky. The majority of my high school classmates stayed in Hawai‘i to attend a local university or community college, or just started working straight out of high school. As a low-income student, I’m very blessed to have had the opportunity to pursue higher education on the mainland, when many of my classmates did not.

Even at Occidental, I’m seeing great differences between private school students and public school students, as well as differences between students from the contiguous United States and Hawaii. The work ethic of my college friends amaze me and make me wonder how my life would’ve been different if I had attended more rigorous schools. These realizations about myself and my classmates have also made me sad. Why are there large differences between schools around the country and why are so many opportunities only available to people who are rich enough to afford them? It all creates a cycle of inequality in our society. I hope there will be a day in the future when all people have access to a high level of education. It makes a difference. From my experiences in high school and college so far, I can say it’s made a difference for me.