Maverick Yasuda, a student at Waipahu High School Early College and Leeward Community College in Hawaii, has been named the 2023 Founders Medal Award recipient. Yasuda received a $1,000 scholarship and the 2023 Founders Medal Medallion at the commencement ceremony for Leeward Community College last Friday, May 12.
This award recognizes one graduating PTK member who has best expressed the value of a community college education.
Yasuda, a senior at Waipahu High School Early College, serves as the student member on the Hawaii State Board of Education, where he represents 170,000 public school students statewide. He graduated with an associate degree in Liberal Arts from Leeward Community College with honors and a 4.0 GPA.
“Maverick, and students like him, show that America’s community colleges are more than just affordable and accessible—they are quality institutions of higher learning. Places where you can grow yourself and a career at the same time,” says Phi Theta Kappa’s President and CEO, Dr. Lynn Tincher-Ladner. “We are very proud of Maverick. He represents the best of what community colleges have to offer.”
Read Maverick’s Founders Medal Award essay below:
I am not just a dual enrolled high school student from the rainbow state of Hawaii, but so much more. Phi Theta Kappa is not just a prestigious organization that has paved the way for countless individuals, but so much more. Avoiding the complacency of the word “just” and embracing the compelling possibilities of the term “and” is what attracted me to the welcoming and collaboratively competitive home away from home, known as Leeward Community College.
For the past four years of my life, my community college education has been a key of opportunity that has given me the ability to unlock any and all doors towards success. I have done my best to commit to my educational and extracurricular endeavors, so that I am able to utilize this key to the best of my ability to continuously advance, opening one door after the next, as I make my way down the unpredictable hallway known as life.
In life, facing struggles are a given. Taking college courses during the summer of my 8th grade year, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I questioned my ability and wondered if I was good enough to be taking college level courses as an incoming freshman. After attending my very first introductory PTK meeting, I had learned that attending community college as a high school student was a privilege, as it gave students from low-income families and marginalized communities the opportunity to create a new life for themselves and their families through hard work, sheer determination, and a lot of studying. Being a student at Waipahu High School, the only high school in the state of Hawaii that offered dually enrolled college courses for free, I decided that I would give community college a go; I decided to give everything I had.
Little did I know, my community college education and experiences would prove to gift me so much more than I could ever imagine. Inside the classroom, I felt a newfound sense of camaraderie among my peers, an exciting urge to learn and ask the questions I had been holding in for so long, and a genuine, true sense of community where I felt happy to be challenged as I simultaneously grew with my classmates and professors. With each course that I participated in, I gained an invaluable learning experience.
With each day that I attended class came the chance to participate in discussions that could range from debating about the most influential Hawaiian monarch in Hawaiian Studies 107, to what the most practical native Hawaiian plant is in Botany 130. While these debates may have never reached a conclusion, I can confidently say that my time in community college has truly been a journey of empowerment, perseverance, and exponential growth, personally and intellectually. While it is true that my trip through community college is coming to an end, my journey through life has just begun; and I plan to make the most of it. My mindset being forged by the trials and tribulations of life, I relentlessly pushed myself to balance my high school classes, sports, and activities with my rigorous college schedule, to show others that it was possible to break the seemingly monotonous cycle of life, even when I wasn’t dealt the best set of cards.
Lingering the streets of Waipahu, my impoverished hometown, the homeless scavenge through trash cans. Complex buildings for low income-housing encompass the landscape, extending for miles. For the majority of people in Waipahu, financial hardships, substance abuse, and emotional despair was a monotonous, unbreakable cycle. Those most affected by these circumstances were my peers–my friends.
When I hesitantly talked about my dream of attending an Ivy League school, they never laughed. When I passionately spoke about my project on phytoremediation, they attentively listened. When I fell short of my goals, they bolstered me to wholeheartedly advance. The struggles of my peers engraved into my soul, I refused to idly stand by.
After the surge of the COVID-19 pandemic, returning to in person school just did not feel the same as previous years; it never would return to normal. As a new student government officer in my junior year, I was determined to reignite the pride of Waipahu High School by diligently working with my council to plan activities that would excite students to come to school. The successes of spirit weeks and “Music Mondays” formed an unwavering momentum that has carried on to my senior year, allowing me to extend my attention to all schools across the state, serving as the student member on the Hawaii Board of Education.
I was told that my responsibility was to talk for 170,000 K-12 public school students across Hawaii on the board. On behalf of the youth, I recreated my role and now aspire to converse with each and every student at their schools, attentively listening, so that I speak for the voiceless and ensure that the forgotten feel embraced.
My participation in developing policy on the Hawaii Board of Education hardly ever related to the environment, but when the topic of campus modernization was brought up in a general board meeting, I happily asked “What about water stations?” the eyes of the board members now glued to me. I added, “they would reduce plastic waste and more importantly, provide a viable source of water for every student across Hawaii.”
While my proposal seemed a bit underwhelming, it was an invaluable step towards actualizing a more sustainable society in Hawaii, where issues ranging from the excessive extraction of natural resources to the endangerment and potential extinction of native organisms take place. With my community college education, as well as my future undergraduate and graduate school endeavors, I hope to continue to combat these issues and mobilize others to do the same.
To sum up my time in community college in a single word, it would be “and” because of the limitless possibilities it offers me, and the infinite outcomes that I have the potential to create. While I reflected on some of my experiences throughout my time in community college, I believe that my achievements effectively portray how I have made the most of this opportunity to make the most of what I was given. In Spring of 2023, I am set to graduate with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from Leeward Community College with honors and a 4.0 GPA. My four years in PTK have led to me serving as the Regional Service Officer of the Pacific Region amidst the pandemic, where I accumulated over 50 hours of community service in total. With the work ethic I forged being dually enrolled, I have a current high school GPA of 4.6, represent 170,000 public school students as the student member on the Hawaii Board of Education, an executive officer in the Hawaii State Student Council.
I hope to continue my journey of intellectual and personal growth at Yale University with an environmental studies major. The past gifts me wisdom, the present hands me opportunity. The future offers me a life with limitless outcomes. It isn’t about living till tomorrow that excites me, but what I can do today instead. Day by day.