Mahalo to a high school debater who inspired me…

In 1978 I was in my junior year at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa (UH). While college is a normal transition for many Americans, I got there by a frightening twist of fate, which left me seriously injured and almost dead.

I was always a terrible student in school. I dropped out when I was 15, had been on my own since I was 14, and was the single parent to a beautiful baby girl when I was 18. But after one week at Kaua‘i Community College, where I enrolled when I was 24 after almost being murdered by a stranger,* I fell madly in love with higher education, which shifted the course of my life to a positive direction.

In 1978, after two years at community college, I transferred to UH and decided I would try to get into law school.

To improve my poor public speaking skills I joined the UH debate team where I stammered nervously and was overwhelmed by feeling inadequate. Self-worth has always been difficult for me to feel, but in spite of feeling terribly foolish, I kept trying to learn debate and public speaking. I did not give up as much as I wanted to.

During my last two years of college on O‘ahu I was consumed with the hope of going to law school in Boston. As a judge for the Hawai‘i state high school speech competitions, I was randomly selected to judge a tall thin African American student debater. He did Lincoln Douglas style debate. It was the Hawai‘i state high school speech competition finals.

I will never forget as I sat in awe and watched this young student who was one of the most articulate and intelligent people I had ever seen speak. The confident teenager, who was still in high school, inspired me to believe I could improve my poor skills.

His speaking was so perfect too that I had a hard time coming up with any comments on how he could improve.

I never forgot the young student and the inspiration he give me. This year I learned he was Barack Obama.

In 1983 I graduated from Northeastern University Law School in Boston. After working as a Hawai‘i state deputy attorney general for 10 years, I switched fields to public health in 1994.

Today I design, implement, evaluate and publish articles about alternative, strength-based approaches, for peacemaking and assisting troubled people including crime victims, homeless youth and people in prison. My programs are democratically driven often using restorative and solution-focused approaches. Many of the programs have gained international attention and one prison project–Restorative Circles–is being piloted in Belgium ( (I have also been teaching personal and public speaking for college students for almost 10 years now!)

This is an open letter of thanks to Senator Barack Obama for inspiring me so many years ago, and now for also inspiring my whole family that includes my grown daughter (who gave me her University of California at Santa Cruz diploma for Mother’s Day in 1994); my two sons–the oldest of whom will graduate from the University of California at Davis next spring (where he is the captain of the UC Davis NCAA Division one swimming team) and the younger one who invented the word “caring-ness” when he was seven years old to describe how we each need to practice taking care of one and other; and my three wonderful grandchildren who are constantly inspiring me with their wisdom and kindness❤️

Love and aloha,  Lorenn

*Thank you too Harold Hall, Ph. D., for not giving up on me and for relentlessly insisting that I enroll at Kaua‘i Community College in 1976 even though I believed I was not “college material.”

1 thought on “Mahalo to a high school debater who inspired me…”

  1. Wow! That is a fantastic post Lori. I remember this story vaguely ut this is so well written…fantastic. You should send this to Barack’s campaign. They might be ale to use it. Great jo.

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