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Lifestyle // Island Matters
Mufi Hannemann

Valedictorian Is Harvard-bound

Michael Kikukawa: Remember the name | From Mufi Hannemann

Molokai High School’s Class of 2013 valedictorian Michael Kikukawa is an inspirational example of a local boy defying the odds to accomplish his goals. Kikukawa makes his mark in the world as the first student from the Friendly Isle to be admitted to my alma mater in Cambridge, Mass.

The 17-year-old senior has a habit of burning the midnight oil, excelling in academics and sports. His late grandfather Arthur Kikukawa was an original member of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team and owner of the famous Midnite Inn restaurant that was engulfed in flames in 1990. Kikukawa learns from his parents, Phillip Torao Kikukawa and Susan Forbes-Kikukawa, both educators, that those who work tirelessly have integrity and determination are destined for excellence.

“My paternal/maternal grandmothers and parents lived a lifestyle of promoting education,” he says. “It was only fitting that I pick up the torch and pursue the highest attainable form of knowledge that I believe a Harvard education will provide.”

I first heard about this whiz kid in 2012 from school counselor and mentor Earl Nakamura, who was instrumental in connecting the student with Harvard. “Michael is a genius and is highly enthused about politics. He is a great admirer of President Obama. I see him as a potential Senator Inouye someday,” touts Nakamura. It was Nakamura who recommended Kikukawa to me for the Harvard Book Award in 2012, given to a member of the junior class who demonstrates excellence in the classroom and extracurricular activities.

“I desire to launch a career in law someday, and I have always aspired to attend Harvard because I knew it would give me limitless opportunities to pursue a career in government service,” says Kikukawa. While his classmates spent their summers at the beach, Kikukawa spent his taking courses at Iolani School on Oahu. Last year, he got a taste of politics when he interned at the state Office of Constituent Services and volunteered on a congressional campaign. “The experiences that I gained last summer solidified my passion for politics, and I see the rest of my life serving my Hawaii in Washington, D.C. In which capacity, I am not sure yet, but it is an exciting dream I will pursue.”

Perhaps the highlight of his life thus far was pressing the flesh with the president at the White House, when he represented Hawaii in the 51st annual United States Senate Youth Program. “What an amazing experience! President Obama has the weight of the world on his shoulders and he presents an aura of importance. When he shook my hand on March 14, he laughed when he found out I was from Molokai. It struck me that he even knew Molokai existed,” says Kikukawa. He says President Obama jokingly asked him, “What happened to the Oahu kids this year?”

Kikukawa’s achievements are impressive. He emerged winner of the 100-meter breaststroke for the Farmers swim team, while also competing in cross country, track and golf; first place at the Hawaii History Day Competition, where he advanced to the national level; and participant in the Maui Schools Science and Engineering Fair, where he earned a spot at the Akamai Wall Street Field Study in the Big Apple. And in addition to being student body president, he also is president of the National Honor Society-local chapter, serves as Hawaii State Student Council vice chair, is secretary of the Maui District Student Council Organization and is the former president of the VEX Robotics Team.

“Every project he takes up, he excels. There is nothing he cannot take to a higher level,” says his principal at MHS, Stanford Hao. Molokai Chamber of Commerce president Rob Stephenson believes Kikukawa is a “superb role model who will represent Hawaii well wherever he goes and will no doubt place Molokai and Hawaii on the map.”

The Kaunakakai boy may be a “big fish in a small friendly pond” now, but Molokai community leaders predict he will return with his Harvard degree and work experience eager and focused to face myriad challenges head on to make our island community a better place.

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