Quote Unquote: Meet Kamehameha Schools Newest Trustee, Crystal Rose

Hilo-born attorney Crystal Rose first attended Kamehameha Schools as a student boarder, graduated, became an attorney who challenged the leadership of the institution in 1998 and helped catalyze fundamental changes, defended the school’s Hawaiian-preference admissions policy and on July 1, she began a new role as trustee of the powerful organization at a salary of $165,000.
Crystal Rose
Photo: David Croxford


I come from a very humble upbringing. Both my parents as well as my grandparents and great-grandparents are all from Hilo and Ka‘ū.


My parents very much valued education and they sent me to Kamehameha when I was 11 years old, entering the seventh grade. 


We didn’t have any family on O‘ahu. So it was quite transformative for me.


My roommates became my sisters and it’s been 50 years now and so I cherish them a lot. 


I think it allowed me opportunities that I never even knew existed. I graduated six years later in 1975. 


There were lots of rules when we were at Kamehameha. On Saturdays, if we wanted to go off campus, we were allowed if our parents authorized it. We had to go in a dress and they checked our fingernails to make sure they were clean. We could only take $3. They counted our money and we had to have a receipt for Kenny’s or McDonald’s or wherever we went to lunch; it all had to add up to $3, including the bus fare. 


We could only iron at a certain time once a week. If you didn’t iron everything you wanted to, then too bad.


There was a specific list of the amount of clothes you could have. They threatened to always send your extra clothes home so that no one could be a clothes horse.


We would “borrow” Cocoa Puffs and Rice Krispies little boxes from breakfast so we could eat them as snacks on the beach at Waikīkī. Now when I go to a buffet with little boxes of cereal in the line, I chuckle.


I think Kamehameha and Pauahi’s gift, as well as my parents, kind of made me who I am today. I studied in London and then graduated from law school in San Francisco and then I came back. 


I’m the first in my family to graduate from a Mainland college.


I really wanted to get involved in complex-type cases and things that have lots of moving parts. As a business lawyer, you’re essentially a problem solver. Somebody comes to you in business because they need help to get something accomplished. If they could do it by themselves they sure as hell wouldn’t hire a lawyer. 


My upbringing gave me a sense of justice and doing the right thing. Those values, which you take to business with you because you can’t be successful without those types of values.


Many of my cases end up having some crisis management attached. My goal is to keep them out of court.


The representation of Oz Stender in what I refer to as the reformation of Kamehameha was a grassroots effort by the community to stand up for what they thought was right. 


I watched the march from Mauna ‘Ala to Kawaiaha‘o and I personally thought it was a very sad day because that’s the first time I ever recall Hawaiians marching on Hawaiians and felt that I needed to get involved and contacted Oz.


That whole case went for about a two-year process. Like many cases, it ended up having a life of its own and grew and morphed as things moved along.


In hindsight, it looks like it was easy to do. At the time it was really high-risk and high-stakes on lots of different levels for lots of different people, including myself. 


I think the catalyst for the community to stand up was really the micromanagement that was going on, on campus as well as the trustees’ decision to eliminate all of the extension and outreach programs without any notice or discussion with the community. 


I think it’s time for me to sit at the table and be part of the decision-making from the inside, and to collaborate with the other trustees, management team, staff and the community as to where we’re going to take the education of our haumana for the next two to three generations. 


I hadn’t applied the last time around. I did a long time ago but didn’t make it through the process.


I’m at a point in my career where I can pick and choose what I want to do and that’s very empowering. 


One of the major criticisms of the prior trustees is that there was a lead trustee for different areas and there was not a CEO. They saw themselves as five CEOs. The current system is the board is actually operating whereby they establish policy and approve procedures and allow the execution of the strategic plan by the management team and CEO.


The KS board of trustees meets for one afternoon twice a month, so it’s every other week. 


It’s time for me to change my voice, to let it become an inside voice. 


So what I see as probably the biggest transformation of the school is the wonderful inclusion of Hawaiian culture into both the organization as well as the education.


Are they ready for kindergarten? Are they graduating? Which is a different view of looking at success; you’re not just counting heads.


I currently serve on the board of Hawaiian Airlines and Central Pacific Bank and Gentry Homes and I intend to keep all of those corporate board responsibilities.


I made the decision to step down from my nonprofit boards…one that’s very dear to my heart is the Boys & Girls Club but they receive funding from Kamehameha so I felt that was a conflict of interest.


I would like to see how I can support students at all grade levels. I obviously have a steep learning curve so that might take me a while to figure out how to best do that and I think it would be really my privilege and honor to mentor and guide some of the women and men at Kamehameha. 


I am both financially and professionally successful and it’s now allowed me to do what I want to do and to pick and choose how I spend my time. As we all know, time is the one thing that is ours.


I’m from Hilo so I’m a country girl at heart. I live out in Kahalu‘u in the country so I enjoy simple things in life. We garden and I like to sew. 


I just sewed my holoku for the Holoku Ball. I like to make haku lei.


(Last year, she reached a personal milestone as a student of hula:) I ‘ūniki’d last summer… It’s a ceremony that you participate in once you have accomplished a certain repertoire of kahiko that your kumu has decided that you have mastered.


I love hanging out with my kids. They’re now young adults and fun to be with. They both live here on O‘ahu.


Money’s not my motivator. I was once told a penny’s made round to go ‘round.


I also think that if you work and you do the right thing, money comes.


Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman