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In Pursuit of Passions
Date Published: 
Friday, January 6, 2012

The other night, as we were cleaning up from dinner, Judy and I watched Leslie Wilcox’s PBS Hawaii show, “Long Story Short,” for which she interviews a variety of interesting people from around our state. This particular program featured Ryan Higa. Now, if you know who he is before I tell you, you are obviously more in tune with current culture than am I. Ryan Higa has just turned 21. He is a graduate of a high school in Hilo where he was an undistinguished student, not bad, not great. Since graduating from high school, Ryan’s face has been seen by something approaching 1 billion people worldwide. Major corporations contact him to advertise or otherwise be connected to his public persona.

Ryan makes YouTube clips. He makes a good living making these clips. I never imagined that anyone would have a career making YouTube clips but he does, apparently well enough that a whole lot of people want to see his work. His most-watched clip attracted somewhere near 30 million viewers, and he described that as not an especially large number of hits.

Ryan picked up a camera for the first time at age eleven. Soon he was filming family gatherings and, being fun-loving, he began to experiment with different angles, different perspectives for the camera to shoot the pictures of his family. He would show the films to his family and they laughed, having a good time as well as a good sense of humor. Ryan was hooked; he could make people laugh using a camera. Soon he was shooting films for his friends to watch, and he posted some of these on YouTube. Young people other than his friends discovered his clips, and his career was off and running.

Ryan was fortunate to have discovered an all-consuming passion early in his life. We cannot know how long he will remain a hot item on YouTube or how profitable his business will become. But, Ryan has purpose, he has the full support of his parents (who probably figured that he was not involved in mischief if he was spending so much time producing YouTube clips), he has made some money, he has learned much about film-making, copyright law and other matters that impact his film production. He has also learned how to take his passion and his success and think about larger implications of his work and interests. His goal is to have “mainstream” media see the social media world in which he operates as a legitimate branch of entertainment and film-making, not just a cutesy time-filler.

Blessed are those who discover an all-consuming passion early in their lives. My brother-in-law is like that; David discovered bugs before he was ten, and he has worked as an entomologist for more than forty years, still fascinated by and curious about bugs, beetles, butterflies and moths. His childhood passion landed his photo of a scarab beetle on the cover of National Geographic a few years back, and he has written serious scientific papers, not just for the science community but for the Smithsonian. All this from a childhood passion.

For several years, I served as an Assistant to the Chancellor of the Riverside campus of the University of California, Ivan Hinderaker, who I consider a mentor. Ivan once described his hope for UCR to be a place where students might discover their “all-consuming passions.” What a lofty goal for an institution serving young people, to be instrumental in helping them to discover positive “all-consuming passions!”

One aspiration I hold for Island Pacific Academy is that we are fertile ground for children to grow in wisdom as well as stature and discover possible passions to pursue. As it happens, neither Ryan nor David found their passions in the context of school. The education of young people is not, and never has been, limited to experiences in schools. There is, though, the possibility that some teacher might inspire a student to develop and pursue a passion or that some subject matter, encountered for the first time in school, might turn out to be the vehicle for the student’s lifelong endeavors. When that happens, and I have had the experience of students telling me about such school-based experiences, it reinforces the joy one feels working with youngsters as they discover the world into which they are entering.

There is also an important role that schools can play that is not generative but facilitating, or at least not inhibiting. Herein resides my commitment to striving to insure that IPA encourages curiosity and creativity—we claim in advertising the school to be a place “where curiosity and creativity burn bright.” May it always be so.

I think of a recent IPA graduate whose imagination was fired at school by life sciences and film-making; she described as her goal to be someone making films for Nova and National Geographic. I think about the technology-savvy graduates who developed their passions away from school but found mentoring and support while at school so that they could advance in that field of endeavor, one even holding a job at his college normally reserved for older students.

Perhaps IPA is a place where a 21st century David, interested in bugs, will find support from an adult scientist, helping the youngster develop the discipline needed to turn a passion into a profession. I am hopeful that an Oahu-based Ryan might find at IPA a faculty mentor, audience, participants, cheerleaders, as he or she takes an idea that lends itself to visual presentation and turns it into reality. I’ve already seen budding film makers present work on Upper School Ho’ike Nights.

John Lennon once told about his ninth grade music teacher who laughed at John’s musical aspirations and warned him he had no future in music. May our school never be guilty of dampening the flame of an all-consuming passion.