For two hours I stood hovering over my iMac, anticipating the next moment that would display on the projector hanging below me, highlighting footage and photos, special designed logos and the phrase Vakatasi: Navigating As One.

Six days ago, if one were to ask me what ‘the plan’ was, I could easily tell you that this wasn’t it … at all.

A theatre production that used the power of the camera to tell a story, to advance a movement, to awaken a people – all within the cultural lines of the Pacific Islands. As if the idea was granted by God herself, the vision came alive in six humble days, nights and early mornings.

We worked hard and remained unrelentless in our understanding that this moment would serve as a strong encouragement to other programs, schools and organizations that serve our community. This moment was granted as a reminder to reconcile ourselves with our indigenous practice of how Pacific Islanders truly honor achievement and celebrate a win for the Ocean.

I was reminded of how big our presence is at events such as this. Over 500 of us in a theatre house that had no air conditioning.

I was reminded that through dance, gratitude and prayer have we modernized ourselves to the customs of celebrating Pacific Islands. We successfully perpetuated our culture without sacrificing our Ocean identity.

I was strongly reminded that ‘poly time’ continues to be used to describe ‘delay’, but in actuality should be reclaimed to highlight our indigenous knowledge on time and space (thank you Uncle Okusitino Mahina).

It makes sense, though. Why I would need these reminders. Not because I am naive to my experiences but because these instances are what makes the sleepless nights and the precision that went into the creative process worth it.

For this, I thank my Ocean.

Six days ago, Finau shared with me her vision for MANA graduation.

“Wouldn’t it be crazy if …” most sentences would begin with.

I listened as she went into great detail, from the powerful introduction video to choosing the different costume colors to even creating a Snapchat surprise for when MANA students would perform in front of Tongan Consulate General Sela Tukia at Tau’akipulu on the eve of. Finau took me down the rabbit hole and crazily enough, we’d lost the ladder for the climb back up.

Crazily enough, the rabbit hole is quite fitting for individuals like her.

‘Tis fitting for the extraordinary visionary that challenges herself to rise to the occasion for the inaugural MANA Graduation and Student Recognition Ceremony and execute thoroughly and with grace. Without boast, Finau kilt the game and revived it just so we could end in celebration over our 30 sophomore graduates, and for the beginning of a new wave in our Ocean.

Tongan womanism, is in essence, this. Rising to the occasion to amplify the value and beauty of her culture. And in her rising was the awakening of an entire assembly. From the students’ daily commitment to learning both the Samoan sasa and the Tongan ma’ulu’ulu, to the Planning Committee’s dedication and efforts to bring forth a production that attempted to best reflect the outstanding achievements and success of our debut MANA Graduating Class of Spring 2017.

As our Guest of Honor Manufou Anoa’i gently reminded us, we are warriors – tama’i toa. And as such, our service back to our community and the responsibility we have to carry out our passions are worn as heirlooms from those who’ve come before us. Her thought-filled speech, in response to the gifts brought before her in invitation the Sunday before, was presented as the beginning key note for all five hundred of us to hear and receive. Honorable Manufou Anoa’i and her deeply rooted message began our journey through the ceremony and into the last act of the night.

With a tribute to the future of MANA and a thank you video to the parents and families, there was not a dry eye in the house. As the two hour event came to a close with a prayer of gratitude, the theater house was given a moment to breathe in all that was left on the stage to receive. From dance, to words, to exchanging embraces with one another once the house lights lit up, the collective thought was felt – tonight our Ocean won.

As I finally come to terms with the deep impression that the Ocean made on the College of San Mateo and the larger Bay Area region, I am in awe of the excitement that has already begun to stir for next year’s graduation. So many have questioned the unthinkable – how do we go bigger? How do we impact deeper? How do we become more inclusive with the high school seniors that will want to share in on the MANA experience?

Because of this year’s success, we allow ourselves to wander in the realm of curiosity and hope – a realm that seems quite familiar, as if the vision before us is the same vision that our ancestors dreamt of for generations.

Congratulations again to the first MANA Graduation Class of 2017.

Hashtag, bless up.

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