Kamehameha Maui's first non-Hawaiian set to graduate 5-21-07

WAILUKU, Hawaii (AP) - 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, expects to graduate later this month, five years after his acceptance by the school sparked a debate in the islands 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.

The Maui admission prompted criticism that Kamehameha was neglecting native Hawaiians by not offering the spot to a student who may have been close to the admission criteria.

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 didnt even occur to us that it would be a problem,” Rosell recalled Friday, just a week before hes due to graduate.

Rosells mother recalled how she and her husband, John, were overjoyed that their only son had been accepted to the prestigious school. Kamehamehas admissions office staff had told them months before that “sure, anybody can apply,” she said.

Rosell said he had been encouraged by his 7th-grade classmates at Iao School who were also applying to Kamehameha.

“I heard of the school, and knew I could get a top education,” he said.

Race was never an issue, according to the Rosells. They recall indicating on Rosells application to Kamehameha that he was Caucasian with no Hawaiian blood. The fact that he wasnt Hawaiian was never brought up, Rosell said.

“The big outcry was a surprise,” Maura Rosell said.

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. Rosells knees were shaking as his parents drove up into the school driveway. They noticed five police cars lined up outside the campus entrance, “just in case something were to happen” with his arrival.

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 very 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 sons strength, especially today with her husband, John, fighting lung cancer on the Mainland. John Rosell will miss his sons graduation ceremonies May 26 at the Pukalani campus.

Eventually, the family will be reunited in Connecticut when Rosell enrolls at Yale on a full scholarship and his father undergoes more intensive cancer treatment at the university's hospital.

Rosell was also offered full four-year scholarships at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Georgia Tech University.

He 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.”

“They reminded us all the time that we shouldn't take things for granted and always remember you have a gift,” he said.

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.