WAIANAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kahunui Foster is bringing a lot of pride of Waianae High School. And she's bringing hope as well to an economically depressed area where many students have difficulty even thinking they can go to college.
That's because she's been accepted at Harvard University, the first Waianae student to do so since 1980.
Foster was the Master of Ceremonies for Friday evening's commencement at the high school football field adjacent to the ocean. She was also one of 11 valedictorians, with a 4.0 grade point average.
Those would already be big accomplishments. But going to Harvard was a longtime goal for this 18-year-old.
"I actually have a letter that I wrote to myself. I think it was at the beginning of sixth grade," said Foster. "At the end of it, I wrote, 'I want to get enough good grades so that I can get into Harvard or Yale.' So apparently I did think about it."
Foster had forgotten about the letter under her mother found it, after she got word that she was Harvard-bound.
Foster was a writer and videographer for Searider Productions, the school's award-winning media program, taking video production and news production simultaneously. One of her productions was a piece on First Lady Michelle Obama's visit to Waianae in 2011.
Those involved in her education said she is a highly motivated young woman, who has always excelled at what she wanted to do.
"Even at the age of eight, when her mom offered her home schooling, she was like, 'No, I know where I'm going and how I'm going to get there.' So it really does start that young," said Waianae High School Principal Disa Hauge, who taught Foster at Maili Elementary.
"To have one of our own head off to the East Coast to one of the most prestigious universities really validates all the work that she's put in, and the public school system put in," she added.
Foster is graduating from a school where last year, 36 percent of graduating seniors went on to college, below the statewide average of 54 percent.
School officials hope someone like Foster will help improve that number at Waianae.
"I hope to use her as an inspiration for other kids," said counselor Shane Nakamura. "We're very proud of her. We're very proud of our whole class and their accomplishments, but this is a big thing, getting into Harvard."
Not only did she meet the academic requirements to get into the Ivy League school, she also met financial aid requirements that will allow her to attend tuition-free.
"I guess it's less scary for them now that they know someone got in. So it's not as intimidating any more," said Foster.