This year we had the distinct honor to award scholarships to two deserving and extraordinary recipients, Benjie Baclig and Shelcie Takenouchi.  Shelcie is in Southern California, where she will attend USC to pursue a master of arts degree in strategic public relations.  Benjie just graduated as the valedictorian from Waimea High School on Kaua’i’s Westside so we were able to take him and his family to breakfast to meet him and learn what fired his ambition to be great.

When he walked into Poipu Bay Golf Course Clubhouse, all the workers there knew Benjie.  He has received many scholarships locally so he has been in the newspaper a lot, and he was accepted to The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.  In fact, he is the only Hawai’i student going to Penn from a public school.

Benjie comes from humble beginnings.  He lives in Kaumakani, Kauai, an old plantation camp.  His parents moved their family to Kauai from the Philippines in 1992.  Neither of his parents speak English well, as Benjie’s mom pointed out to us.  He is from a loving family and spiritually grounded in his church.  It is obvious that Mom and Dad have been key to his success and are proud of what he has achieved.  He’s interested in international business and has a Scottrade account.

Lesson #1: Think Big
When we asked Benjie what set him apart, he said, “I think big.  I only have one life to live.  I have to make it big.”  Such a simple concept, thinking big, and yet so few of us do it.  We too often set expectations, which we label “realistic” as we have long lists of “yeah buts” that run through our heads that give reason why we are unable to achieve at the highest levels.  Benjie has none of that.  If he did, he would not be going to Wharton, which only has a 10% acceptance rate.  If he did, he would not aspire to do his graduate work at Harvard University or to eventually hold the post as the Federal Reserve Chairman.  He thinks big…really BIG.  Why not?  What’s the alternative?

Lesson #2: Knowledge is Power
It was also immediately apparent to us that Benjie loves to learn. His thirst for knowledge is great, and if there’s something he wants to know, he takes the steps to get the answer.  He told us that as a high school freshman, he set out to be the valedictorian of his class and attend an Ivy League school (and look what happened!). To assist him with achieving these goals, he read books to teach himself how to gain success and get accepted to an Ivy League university.  Benjie’s mom says that he’s always got a book in hand…even at parties.

Lesson #3: Stay Focused and Work Hard
Yes, you read that right, Benjie sometimes has a book on hand at parties.  Benjie said that he often uses the down times at family gatherings to read.  This is part of Benjie’s unwavering focus on achieving his goals.  Not only does he work hard at academics, but also in every aspect of his life.  He is an active volunteer and leader with numerous organizations, and worked at Lappert’s Ice Cream in high school, sometimes up to thirty hours per week.

Lesson #4: Go Get ‘Em!
Benjie has an attitude that is positive and full of momentum. Going back to Lesson #2, Benjie is not afraid to seek out information, no matter where he has to go to find it. Along this line and because he felt that he needed help with public speaking, Benjie joined Toastmasters International, an organization that helps people become more competent and comfortable in front of an audience. Toastmasters’ meetings usually consist of a group of 20 people that that learn and practice these skills.  We don’t know many adults who would have the courage to join Toastmasters to improve their public speaking, and were impressed by this teenager’s “Go Get ‘Em” attitude and fearless efforts to better himself.

Benjie is eager to learn and full of hope and wonder and faith.  And, he works hard and constantly.  He has big dreams and he puts in his time to make them come true.  Those are our lessons from Benjie.  Worth learning, for sure.

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