HONOLULU (KHON2) — The morning before Perri Funai was supposed to graduate on May 20, she woke up feeling a little sick — she had tested positive for COVID-19. For the 18-year-old valedictorian, the realization of not being able to attend her graduation ceremony was crushing.

“I always dreamed of this magical moment where I could finally celebrate the culmination of years of hard work with all of my friends and family,” Perri said. “So to find that I would never have this moment was painful. However, I was so fortunate to have such supportive friends, teachers and family.”

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The Moanalua High School graduate said her friends and teachers would check on her, and her family still attended the graduation where they gave lei to her friends in her place.

“Even while I was alone at home in bed, I could still smile and celebrate on graduation night because of these people,” said Perri.

It was her best friend Cassidy who came up with the idea to hold a “redo” graduation at Perri’s house.

“A few days after graduation, she showed up at my house and surprised me with an invitation to my own graduation ceremony scheduled for June 5th at my house,” said Perri. “She sent out invitations to all of my friends. Almost every person she invited showed up, including my class advisor, Mr. Ishida, and Ms. Kiyono, another teacher I had been very close with. To mimic graduation as best as possible, Cassidy had Mr. Ishida present a class advisor speech, and she had Ms. Kiyono present the valedictorians and graduating seniors.”

“Perri is a very special student,” said Todd Oshima, who teaches orchestra and piano at the school. “I’ve had her for all four years, and she has improved so much on the violin. She is the concertmistress of our orchestra and the orchestra president this year. She is incredibly talented and such a great person.”

Though Oshima did not attend the home celebration, he was happy that she chose to take precautions instead of risk spreading COVID at graduation.

Moanalua High School teacher Todd Oshima takes a picture with Perri Funai, right, who was named valedictorian. (Courtesy: Todd Oshima)

“Teaching during the pandemic was incredibly frustrating yet fulfilling,” said Oshima, who has taught at Moanalua High School for five years. “It was challenging switching over instruction to a completely different format, yet it was encouraging and fulfilling watching students excel and thrive when they were limited by distance learning. I encourage students to look to Perri’s story as a lesson on integrity. She chose to do the right thing and acted like a real leader till the very end, even though no one else was looking.”

Perri said the graduation ceremony at home was an incredible experience. Everyone wore masks, and the home was well-ventilated. Her friend Cassidy even created programs for the ceremony and diplomas for their 2022 alumni. There were emcees and presenters following the graduation script almost exactly, and they even sang their class song and alma mater.

“We all cheered at the top of our lungs for each other when each friend was called up to receive their diploma, and we sang our songs with passion and pride. I felt so happy,” said Perri. “Most of all, I felt incredibly grateful to have met Cassidy and to have such amazing people in my life. This redo of graduation was magical, and I learned a lot from it. I truly believe that this experience was even more special than the graduation I had missed.”

Perri’s valedictorian speech turned into more of a “thank you” speech to those who organized the ceremony. Watch her speech below.

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Perri will be attending Pacific University this fall and is excited for the next chapter of her life.