Hawai‘i High School Senior Talks About Life and Graduation During a Pandemic

One of Wai‘anae High School’s valedictorians shares the moment when the pandemic became very real to her and her classmates.

Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a letter carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, police captain and more about the way their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. We asked high school senior Mikaela Briones to write her story for us to share on the day she and hundreds of our sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and friends graduate in a way none of us ever expected. Here is her column along with an excerpt of her valedictorian speech that will be broadcast in her virtual ceremony.


Mikaela in her graduation gown.
wai‘anae high school senior mikaela briones will be one of more than 350 graduates celebrating in a virtual ceremony on friday, may 22.
photo: kristyn kailewa 


“Everyday, I would wake up to go to school. Usually I’d wake up late because I’d been up the night before working on a project or finishing assignments. I’d rush to the basketball court where students park and anxiously await the beginning of the school day. This was my “normal” before COVID-19. I would go to school, attend club meetings and at the end of the day, I would either intern at Searider Productions or attend an early college class. Before the pandemic hit, I had only heard of the virus through social media, the news, or through my classes, but then I attended this year’s Student Television Network (STN) Convention.


STN is a convention where students compete in journalism, film, and media on a national level. In March, we went to the convention in Washington D.C. We were all so excited to be there and were so psyched to compete. On the day we were supposed to register, we had already been out for most of the day and our adviser, John Allen, left to go check us in. We were sitting in the lobby for a while, which I thought was a little weird. Then after a little more waiting, he said he had an announcement. The convention was canceled. As he continued to give us some more information and what it meant for the rest of the trip, the upperclassmen’s hearts broke all at once. For some of my friends, it would’ve been their sixth year competing. It was a huge deal to us. That was the moment when the pandemic became very real to me and for the first time since hearing about the coronavirus, I was scared. After a sobfest with the other seniors, we ended up making the most out of the situation and the trip was the best I ever had, considering the circumstances.


At home, it hit me even harder. I had talked to my advisers in D.C. and they mentioned [Hawai‘i] wouldn’t be the same as it was when we left. Boy was that true. As I write this, it’s the last week for seniors and it doesn’t feel real. I don’t feel a great loss when I think about losing prom and all the events that our student council had planned. But graduation? I’m heartbroken that I won’t give my valedictorian speech, walk the stage and sing our class song off-key with my classmates. I won’t be able to cheer with them when they announce that we’ve graduated. I’m terrified to see how next year will be.


However, this last month has made me appreciate the little things. My family is whole and healthy. We’re all staying inside to prevent the spread. I have developed hobbies like cooking and bullet journaling. I started working out inside to pass the time. And I’m excited to see what graduation will be like. Waiʻanae High School will be holding a virtual graduation and I’m happy that our administration worked so hard to make this happen for us. Yes, I won’t be walking across the field. Yes, I won’t be able to say goodbye to all the people in my clubs. Yes, I won’t have the experiences I expected for the last months of my senior year. However, I’m so appreciative that we’re still graduating. I do hope the pandemic comes to an end soon, but hey, Class of 2020 is one for the books.


SEE ALSO: Celebrate Hawai‘i’s Great Graduates of 2020 with These Local Gifts


Mikaela Briones sent us a copy of the valedictorian speech she recorded for her school’s virtual ceremony scheduled for Friday, May 22 at 6 p.m. Here is an excerpt:


We all knew that the class of 2020 was special. However, special is an understatement.


Thinking back to the last day we were on campus, it seems like a lifetime ago. When you look around and realize just how long we’ve been together, since kindergarten, since intermediate, since freshman year, up until this very moment, it’s extraordinary to think of the endless possibilities that this class can accomplish and has accomplished. It’s clear that the Class of 2020 is resilient, headstrong, and most of all one.


It was a pleasure Class of 2020, as we look forward to what lies ahead for us, don’t forget, “Once a searider, always a searider!” Congratulations Class of 2020!