It was evident in the 8th grade that Leighton Panui Jr. had a promising future. The afternoon I had an encounter with Leighton, while he was an 8th grader at WIS, impacted me enough that I sought him out 8 years later. I was dragging my rolling cart through the hall when Leighton and his 2 friends turned the corner from the direction I was headed. Although I intended to step aside, Leighton held both arms out to his side, and said to his friends, “Hey, let the lady pass.” I said thank you, and he said, “Of course,” like what he did was no big deal. He probably doesn’t remember that. But, I was so impressed that afternoon that I’ve never forgotten it.
Today, Leighton is a student and football player for Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon. He’s a fullback for the WOU Wolves . He was blessed to have played from his Freshman year. As a Wai’anae High Searider, he played as a running back , fullback and special teams . He al so served as team captain .
When I caught up with Leighton I asked him about college life. He had lots to share and some good advice for our Wai’anae kids. Leighton shared that he dreamed of attending college on the mainland since he was in the 6th grade. College was the answer for a better future for himself and his family. “College was also my ticket to explore the mainland,” asserts Leighton. “I always knew I’d reach my goal, and it came very real in my junior year of high school when I started receiving letters from multiple schools showing interest in me.” “I’ve been in college for three years now and it isn’t easy,” says Leighton.
As a high school student, I worked hard in the classroom and on the football field. I took advanced placement classes, joined the National Honor Society, did community service, and I let each college know that I wanted to be a part of their school. Even though I worked as hard as I could, I don’t feel I was ready for college. I believe the Hawaii school system needs a revamping. They didn’t prepare me well enough when compared to other students on the mainland, but I didn’t let that stop me. I work hard everyday. It’s a natural instinct in me, instilled by my parents. My family and girlfriend, Britt are instrumental when it comes to me achieving my goals. They have been with me since the beginning of my journey and have continued to support me ever y step of the way. Without their love and support I would not have the determination and drive to accomplish any of my goals.” Leighton believes, “Nothing is handed to you. God might have given you the talent, but it’s up to you to make the most of it. My parents taught me and my siblings (Leahi, Leina and Leihali’a) that lesson, and it is God who guides me the rest of the way.”
“ Unfortunately people from Wai’anae are stereotyped, says Leighton .“ It ’s important to do our best to come out of that stereotype. One day while I was in high school, the National Honor Society was having a meeting. When I walked in, an advisor stopped me and told me that the classroom was being used for a National Honor Society meeting. I told him to check his list because my name was on it. At first I was angry that they labelled me a football jock and couldn’t believe I was a scholar too. I never let stereotypes hold me back,” remarks Leighton.
Leighton Panui Jr. is a man on a mission and a role model for young men in Wai’anae, and ever y where. Leighton shares this with any young person . “Going to college is not impossible. But , be prepared to work hard for it . You’re going to face adversity but push through because you will see doors and dreams open for you . Don’ t be afraid to leave Wai’anae because Wai’anae will be there when you get back .” Leighton’s l as t words? “Aloha to all , from Monmouth Oregon .”