Former Hawaii Gov. John Waihee

Hideo Oshita

Hawaiian Mission Academy

A future governor was saved from expulsion by a teacher who saw his potential

Hawaii Governor John Waihee III confesses that he and high school senior advisor Hideo Oshita did not have the best relationship through most of the future governor’s time as a boarding student at Honolulu’s Hawaiian Mission Academy.

So it came as a surprise to the young John when he learned that Mr. Oshita was the one teacher who stood up for him and single-handedly persuaded his fellow teachers not to expel him.

“He was really old school,” Waihee said. “For this guy, the rules were the rules.”

A Hawaii Island boy away from home for the first time, young John wanted to explore the city. However, as a boarder, he was expected to do yard work under Mr. Oshita’s stern supervision.

“I used to go out of my way just to see how far I could push his psyche, you know? I looked at him as the antithesis of anything that I would be excited about. He was just a really rigid guy. He didn’t have a personality and you wouldn’t think that he and I would ever get as close as we became,” Waihee said.

“[A month before graduation, I got into some trouble which I’m not going to get into,” he added. All of the teachers had come to the conclusion that while they liked him, he had to go. He began planning to return to Hawaii Island. He thought he might become a paniolo at Parker Ranch, near his hometown of Honokaa.

On the day the teachers were to vote formally to expel him, Mr. Oshita called Waihee into his office. “He told me that my being expelled would be ‘a tremendous waste of human potential,’ or something like that,” recalled Waihee.

The teacher and the student spent at least two hours talking.

Said Waihee,“We talked about what would be possible. He told me what was happening in the world and why it would be exciting for me to be a part of it. He talked about how there’s a need for people who will challenge the system.”

He learned that Mr. Oshita was part of a generation of Hawaii residents who led Hawaii after World War II into a new, more modern area that made the state better.

“I found out that this guy was really into history, and he talked to me about things like civil rights and how we had to stand up for our liberties,” said Waihee.

Young John had already begun to form his own opinions about civil rights and the Vietnam War, but it wasn’t until he’d had his talk with Mr. Oshita that he began to be excited with the idea of being part of the change.

“We had a conversation where he was reinforcing some of my instincts and telling me that ‘if you ever got your act together, you could actually do something instead of just fool around,’” said Waihee.

A short time after the chat, young John was sent to the principal’s office where Mr. Oshita and the rest of the faculty had also gathered and was told the teachers decided to let him graduate after all.

After graduation, Gov. Waihee attended Andrews College, the Michigan institution where he eventually earned bachelor’s degrees in business and history. While there, he began corresponding with Mr. Oshita on various topics involving Hawaii and history.

“He became the closest thing to a teacher and mentor, post high school, that I’d had,” Waihee said, noting that Mr. Oshita would send him suggestions on what to read and be educated about.

Mr. Oshita encouraged him to stay politically attuned and the student listened. Gov. Waihee won the first of many elections — as Andrews’ student body president.

“We kept in contact up until the time he died,” Waihee said. While Mr. Oshita was gone before he became governor, he recalled meeting his widow while he was in office.

“She told me he would have been very proud of me.”

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