As Kaiser High School junior Aaron Nee walked through the school's library doors Thursday, he was greeted by cheers from his parents, schoolmates, faculty and other guests as the new winner of Alaska Airline's "Spirit of the Islands" Paint-the-Plane contest.
"I was surprised, just really really surprised," Nee said. "I'm practically getting a heart attack right now."
As the grand prize winner, Nee's artwork - featuring a voyaging canoe meant to depict Polynesians' first arriving in Hawaii, hibiscus flowers and the Hawaiian island chain below the phrase "Spirit of the Islands" - will be displayed on an Alaska Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft that will travel around the nation. In addition, Nee received a trip for four to any of the carrier's destinations and a $5,000 scholarship.
Nee said he hopes to use his scholarship money for college at Kapiolani Community College and the University of Hawaii and plans to take his family to New York to see his relatives, Ground Zero and his first snow sighting.
"This is pretty much more than I could ask for," Nee said.
His design won among more than 2,700 submissions created by students from kindergarten through 12th grade. The initial voting process involved a judging panel of Hawaii artists, educators and other community members who then selected the top three designs. From there, the public was able to vote online.
Nee received more than 4,000 votes out of 7,000.
Mark Bocchi, managing director of sales and community marketing for Alaska Airlines, said the contest - sponsored by Alaska Airlines, the Hawaii State Department of Education and Hawaii Association of Independent Schools - was open only to Hawaii residents and was a way to commemorate five years of service to Hawaii.
"We wanted the spirit of the islands to be conveyed from the kids on the islands," he said. "We wanted that to be their message so that when this plane flies from Hawaii to Seattle or anywhere that we fly today, we want people in those areas to learn that this is what that meaning is to them or what it means to them."
DOE superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi said the contest was a unique opportunity for Hawaii students to showcase their talents.
"I think it was a chance for them to really think about what it is that Hawaii is about and what you want to convey to the rest of the world about the spirit of the islands," she said.