Change is a universal truth. Time will pass and what is familiar and comforting for us now, may not always be there in the same way in the future.
What we must do is look for ways to persevere and continue on in life when the change may, at times, seem all too much. In order to acclimate to change, I feel we must each find our constant. A constant: someone or something we can turn to when the world around us seems out of sorts. Without a constant, we lose track of what we should be doing. We lose track of what should be our course. We may even lose track of who we are.
As I reflect on the changes in my life, I immediately think of our beloved ‘Emalani, who had a life of great joy and then extreme sorrow. Her life as she knew it was ripped away from her, with seemingly no explanation. Her life was changed. How did Emma continue on? What helped her navigate through her time of devastation and loss?
Accounts of Emma during this dark time in her life reveal that she truly was devastated. Her character was forever changed after the death of her son and then her husband. Her grief was so great that she slept beneath the tamarind tree at the grave of her little boy. Manley Hopkins, who knew Emma well, wrote that it was almost as if she “remained unconscious of the whole outer world” (Korn, 1976: Introduction: xlii).
Emma’s ‘ohana, her hoa, and especially Ke Akua kept her going through favorable and tumultuous times. Queen Emma’s cousin, Peter Kaeo, has been at the forefront of my mind. I read about Peter Kekuaokalani a few years ago, and he kept coming to mind -- over and over and over again -- as I was preparing for this day. I took it as a hō‘ailona.
Peter was Emma’s cousin, the son of Emma’s aunt, Jane Lahilahi Young. Peter and Emma were neighbors and schoolmates and favored companions of one another. But Peter fell victim to leprosy and was sent away from O‘ahu to Kalaupapa. During his three-year exile, Peter and Emma devotedly wrote back and forth to one another.
I have not finished reading all one hundred and twenty-two letters, but the importance of family is evident in the letters I have read. For me, these letters reaffirm that there will always be those who keep us going when times are difficult.
These letters may almost seem mundane, but I see so much more in these interactions. I see two cousins who care deeply about one another – the kind of family that we all hope to have. Family that will be there for us, will listen to everything. Family that will be our constant and keep us steady when the world around us is in change or we are separated by oceans.
Senior class ladies, as Ke Akua leads you on new adventures in the years to come, my hope for you is that you identify who in your life will be your constant. The adults around you have nurtured and supported you. But remember, they were once in your position -- embarking on new adventures and in periods of great change. If you look around, everyone here has gone through these periods of change and flux and each one of us is still here today. I would venture to guess that these adults had to find their own constants, and are here today because of that support.
Emma is a beacon of light for so many people. She is the reason we are all here today. Each one of us here is blessed to be her pua, the beneficiaries of her actions. We are all connected to this one woman, Emma, in various ways. Connected through a courageous, brilliant, and kind woman who was born almost 200 years ago. We must be like Emma and identify those people in our lives who will be our guiding stars, our constants, those who will keep us on a path.
As the beneficiaries of what Emma and her kāne envisioned and created, we have the kuleana to perpetuate Emma’s legacy. We must go and embody Emma’s light in a world that is dark and desperately needs more goodness. Being her light in the world is not a choice, but a kuleana. A responsibility. A privilege. Kuleana is tied to relationships. Priory ladies, you may not have realized this kuleana when you first started at The Priory. But now that you are associated with Queen Emma and the vision she had for young women, you must uphold her legacy. It is a privilege to be her beneficiary, and there is no other option but to always be your best self.
Many of our constants, our stars, are no longer physically with us. When it seems almost too difficult to continue on, when the grief overcomes us, remember: Even though we are physically separated from them by death, their light still shines so brightly that they continue to guide what we do.
Emma is, in the body, physically gone but her legacy is still all around us. We must keep her at the forefront of our minds and perpetuate her legacy of kindness, compassion, brilliance, and courage to continue on when we feel we no longer can. That is our kuleana. That is what we must do because we are connected to Emma. In a world of change – loss, joy, devastation, and elation – Emma will always be our constant. As her pua, we will forever benefit from her. No matter how near or far you may go from this place, know the love and light of your ‘ohana, this ‘āina, Ke Akua, and Queen Emma will bring you home.