Congratulations and Thank You, Damien Memorial School Class of 2017!

I didn’t have time to prepare for this past school year. Avery got sick during the second weekend of last July and, with her health fluctuating, would remain in the NICU for four weeks before being moved into a regular care room for three more weeks. She finally made it home during the first week of September, but by then I had been teaching for a full month while sleeping at Kapiolani during the work week.

This was the first school year in over a decade during which I taught all-new students. During the previous years, I taught the Junior Honors group, some of whom would become my AP English Literature Class. Back then, there was always a sort of built in familiarity and comfort that started in that class and filtered throughout the rest. But that didn’t happen this year. I didn’t know my new students and so I didn’t want to tell them what was going on with Avery because I guess I didn’t want that to be the icebreaker; “My name is Mr. Higa. My daughter is super-sick. She might die. I don’t know. But here’s your syllabus for the class.” It seemed absurd, surreal, to come to work like usual, then leave it to return to the highly unusual. Eventually, I told my students about what was going on in my personal life I brought candy to class to celebrate Avery’s homecoming. The thing I remember most is that many of my students had no idea what I was talking about. They asked why the candy. I told them. They seemed puzzled. “I thought I told you guys,” I said. “Not us,” some of them said. But I know I told them. Did I not tell all of my classes? Just one or two of them? I didn’t know then and I suppose I’ll never know. It was a crazy time.


The Damien Memorial School Class of 2017

Class of 2017,
The thing I will remember most is how down for each other you all were. You organized get-togethers that were open to the entire class. You showed up at Homecoming games, senior nights, playoff games, and championship games. You sat in my classroom for hours and made signs for each other. You made it so fun to be a Monarch sports fan this year. You brainstormed the crazy idea for a class luau during 10 minutes of English class and it actually became a thing, a real thing. I want to be clear: the way you held on to each other is not common, and it was the very best trait of your class.

I thought the 2015-2016 school year was the most challenging epoch of my life and it was. Until this year. I thought about quitting every single day of the the first quarter. It was the emotional strain of dealing with my daughter’s illness. I guess when your kid is fighting for her life, everything else seems stupid or meaningless. I wanted to give up. But you didn’t give up on me. Truth be told, I’m a little salty that Brother Casey made your tendencies toward service and community a prominent feature of his speech. This is the exact spot where I was going to get there. I guess I will just say this instead:

It is not always easy to be kind. Caring is harder than not caring. It inherently means to make yourself vulnerable. If you ever wonder whether your acts of kindness and of service matter, please know they do. Your kindness toward and patience with me – when I was bitter and exhausted and miserable and wallowing hopelessness – helped buoy me. You didn’t even know me but you did it anyway. It was a reversal of roles; you did for me what I am supposed to do for you.

I wish I could have gotten to know you sooner and more quickly. If I have one regret, it is that I never had the chance to teach all of you. All the same, I wish each and every one of you the very best in the days and nights ahead of you. If you are sad it is because you are a very close-knit class and because it is easier to mourn a past you can see perfectly rather than eagerly anticipate the hazy uncertainty of change. But didn’t you feel that way at the end of the 8th grade, too? Look at you now.


Your friend,

Phil Higa
Damien Memorial School, 1998


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