The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

The Student News Site of Punahou School

Ka Punahou

Op-Ed: Appreciating President Latham’s Leadership Amid Pandemic

President Latham announces that the live 2020 commencement ceremony has been cancelled


On July 1, 2019, Dr. Michael E. Latham ‘86 returned from Grinnell College in Iowa to serve as Punahou’s 17th president, succeeding Dr. James Scott ‘70 after 25 years.  After years of renowned service at Fordham, Johns Hopkins-Nanjing, and finally Grinnell, the 2019-2020 school year was expected to be his triumphant return to Punahou.  Unfortunately, this year was marred by the coronavirus pandemic and now the impending sexual assault allegations against a former Punahou coach.

As the face of Punahou, President Latham was the one who needed to step up and make the difficult decisions, knowing that every move could affect Punahou, its faculty, and students in a monumental way.  This had to be the worst first year on the job he could have had.  Nevertheless, President Latham has taken it in stride and is continuing to be the leader and role model we need during these challenging times.

During this tough time, President Latham has had to make some very difficult decisions regarding school activities amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  One of these involves the in-person commencement ceremony being moved to December 27, and a virtual ceremony taking its place.  At first, many Punahou seniors were outraged by this decision to cancel their ceremony, as it would have been the pinnacle of their high school careers and a reward for all the hard work they put in over the years.

President Latham shares their dismay.  “You are my first graduating class as President, and there was nothing I looked forward to so much as seeing you accept your diplomas in person,” he declared in an online announcement video.  The hardest decisions are often the ones that carry the most weight, and President Latham stepped up and made the decision that ultimately was the best for the safety of the community.

Class of 2020 president Zane Yamamoto ‘20 participated in the meetings where administration discussed the plans for the rest of the school year, including graduation. “I think he made the only possible decision based on the current situation.  I also think he made the right decision for the health and safety of the community,” Yamamoto ‘20 said.

Although a lot of the initial reaction was negative, the general consensus now is that while members of the Punahou community, especially seniors, are angry that their school events were cancelled, they understand that these decisions are necessary and the administration is doing all they can.  Punahou senior Michael Yamada ‘20 felt that President Latham was doing all he could with what he was given.

“I think that he is doing everything he can to make this year special for the seniors even with this COVID-19 situation.  Although these circumstances are not ideal, President Latham is doing the most that he can for us,” said Yamada ‘20 in a phone interview.

Tammy Yamada, mother of Michael and a Punahou cafeteria worker also commented on this question.  She said, “[President Latham] is doing a good job. He’s doing the best he can with the information that he has and he’s doing the best he can with the mandates put in place by the state of Hawaii.”

Punahou teachers also praised the work that Latham has done before and during these difficult times.  Mr. Adam P. Jenkins, academy physics teacher, said in an email interview “I think he came here hoping to tackle one existential crisis – climate change – and got handed two more.  Punahou is a big ship, but it moved fast over spring break to reinvent the last quarter of this year.  I’m glad he’s at the helm.”

Above all, President Latham is caring and optimistic about the Class of 2020’s future, remarking “you represent the very best of Punahou, and I can’t wait for us to gather once more to sing your praises in celebration.”  In times like these where it is so easy to point fingers and blame those in charge for our losses, we should take the time to appreciate what people like President Latham are doing for us.  He has our best interests at heart, and while his first year has gone nothing like how it was expected, I believe he will end his first year triumphantly in a different way: as the leader who brought Punahou through and out of this crisis.


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