Malia Tanaka Essay

Like most kids growing up, I was mesmerized by the Disney animated films like The Lion KingAladdinPocahontas and Cinderella.  My favorite, however, was The Little Mermaid, which captivated me with its catchy tunes, fairy tale story and unique characters.  In the theme song of the movie, Ariel (the Little Mermaid) sings about her longing to be a part of the human world.  Perhaps what draws me to Ariel is her spirit and her longing to be a part of a world outside her own.  I share Ariel’s spirit and longing to be a part of the “bigger picture.”

Living in our small, agricultural town of Kealakekua has taught me the importance of small town values and community spirit.  Working on our family’s coffee and macadamia nut farm has taught me the value of hard work and the importance of tradition.   I am grateful that I was raised in such a unique corner of the world– a community that is culturally and socially diverse, a place where someone’s ohana includes more than just immediate family members, a place where people not just care about their aina but develop a strong spiritual connection to it and a place where a “village” truly does “raise a child.”   These values will be with me forever and have grounded me and engrained in me what is truly important in life – respect for our land and respect for all people of every race, culture and socioeconomic status.

Attending college was always a goal of mine.  To me, the word “college”  is synonymous with the word “opportunity.”  I am currently a freshman at Chapman University in Orange, California.  My home will always be Hawaii, but I personally think it is important that students, if able, experience life outside of their comfort zones.  I believe this “growing up period” is invaluable to the development of not only my independence but also my appreciation for the uniqueness of Hawaii and its culture.  Attending a college on the Mainland has opened my eyes to the world around me.  It is providing me with not only incredible academic stimulation but is helping me develop the non-academic social skills so important to not just surviving, but thriving, in today’s world.

Being a part of the “bigger picture” includes getting involved in our world – in our local, national and global communities.  I believe that I have demonstrated my responsibilities as a citizen at school and in my communities by actively involving myself in both.  Many of the activities I participated in throughout high school have been leadership activities, including serving as a member of the Hawaii State Student Council (Communications Chair), serving as a member of the Big Island Association of Student Councils, participating in the E Malama Kakou Project (a year-long leadership development program designed to heighten and augment girls’ interest in STEM-related fields, environmental and cultural awareness, and Hawaii’s sustainable future), and serving as a Hawaii delegate at the National Association of Student Councils Annual Conference in Justin, Texas, where I experienced first-hand how young people getting involved made huge differences in their local communities and around the world.

It is also my belief that it is everyone’s responsibility to participate in helping to build and maintain strong local, national and global communities.  Everyone has something to give, and some of the service activities I was involved in during high school include Hospice of Kona, Relay for Life, the “Hats Off to the American Red Cross” national fundraiser, community meals, the Lions Club annual “Lion’s Feast” fundraiser, the Ironman triathlons, entertaining seniors at adult day care centers, Terry Fox Run, West Hawaii Cancer Symposium, keiki track meets, and child care at community meetings.  In college, I have continued my service efforts by joining service clubs on campus such as G.I.V.E. (Get Involved with Volunteer Efforts) and the Hawaii Club.  As a member of G.I.V.E., I have tutored elementary school students, volunteered at a “Pretend City” helping children and ushered at Holocaust survivor events.  As a member of the Hawaii Club, I have participated in beach clean-ups at Newport Beach.  My most rewarding service experience at college thus far, however, has been traveling to New Orleans to help rebuild homes affected by Hurricane Katrina.  Our 7-hour workdays included building of wheelchair ramps, installing of insulation and radiant barriers, nailing posts, working with concrete, etc.   During this period, I learned about the decision-making and politics involved in the Hurricane Katrina disaster.  This experience, along with my high school and other leadership activities, reinforced my passion for politics, government and service and heavily influenced my decision to major in Political Science, with a minor in Leadership.

After obtaining my undergraduate degree, I would like to continue my education by either attending law school or pursuing a Master’s Degree and then returning to Hawaii to pursue a career in law or public service.   The challenges facing Hawaii are real – we must find ways of balancing the need to sustain and survive economically and culturally while at the same time protecting our environment.    Fulfilling my dream would mean that Hawaii would have one more passionate and educated person to address these issues for the good of its people and aina.

As Ariel sang so sweetly in The Little Mermaid, I am “[r]eady to know what the people know.  Ask ‘em my questions and get some answers.  What’s a fire, and why does it . . . burn?  When’s it my turn?  Wouldn’t I love . . . love to explore that shore up above?  Out of the sea, wish I could be part of that world.” College has allowed me to feel like I am part of the world, but my hope is that by continuing my education and pursuing my career goals, that I will actually be a positive difference-maker in the world and a very real contributor to the “bigger picture.”

Thank you so much for the opportunity to apply for the Kona-California Scholarship.