Another young man on a missionIt  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.”

LEIGHTON PANUI“ 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 .”