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Valedictorian Cael Yasutake stands out as a leader among his class

By BY WALTER CHIHARA - | Jun 18, 2021

Cael Yasutake created a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) camp for Holy Innocents Preschool keiki.

LAHAINA — The true grit integrity of Maui’s West Side community is manifested in many ways, and particularly in the young adults moving on from high school to the next chapter of their lives.

The Lahainaluna High School Class of 2021 is a sterling representation of this, and class Valedictorian Cael Yasutake stands out among his classmates as a leader by example of the family virtue that is the cornerstone of lifelong success in Lahaina.

Yasutake earned a 4.13 grade point average in Advanced Placement classes to graduate as one of the top Valedictorians of the Lahainaluna Class of 2021.

He was awarded numerous scholarships and honored for various community service projects. His commencement speech highlighted the “giving back” nature of life here in Lahaina.

Cael’s parents, Jon and Ginny Yasutake, and with brothers Chase and Cy as well as sister Cami, instilled a deep sense of community pride coupled with the homegrown humility and generosity that shines so brightly on the West Side.

In particular, young Cael contributed as a youth wrestling coach over the years and, most recently, created and organized a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) camp — first in person two years ago, and then a virtual camp more recently following COVID-19 protocols.

The youth wrestling lineage of the Yasutake/Nakata families goes back decades with the Lahaina Roughnecks and Lahainaluna High School programs. Cael’s granddad, Neal Nakata, was a youth wrestling leader and coach and quietly helped establish the pathway for success of those teams that continues to this day.

Despite injuries and the cancellation of his senior season, Cael established himself as one of Lahainaluna’s top competitors and advanced to the state tournament in each of his first three campaigns. He was a state finalist at 113 pounds last year, and his name is on the Wall of Honor in the Luna Wrestling Room.

“It’s sad that the seniors did not have a senior season, and Cael would have definitely been a state finalist. Coming from the family lineage to his grandad Coach Neal Nakata, he learned hard work, discipline, dealing with adversity, and perseverance,” said Lunas Coach Todd Hayase.

“He (Cael) dealt with injuries every year,” Coach Todd went on to say. “Many would have tossed in the towel, but that is not in the family blood. He went through grueling rehab, and with strong family support he battled back every year. He dealt with the injuries and weight management to compete at the highest level in one of the most competitive weight classes. He became a three-time state placer and a 2020 state finalist.”

Added Roughnecks and Lunas Coach Conrad Bolor, “Cael was one of our captains and one of our quiet leaders for the youth and high school teams. He really represents the work ethic and giving back philosophy of Lahaina.”

Yasutake’s contributions to the strength of the Lahaina community stretched far beyond the wrestling rooms. He graduated from Holy Innocents Preschool in 2008. According to HIPS Administrator Cynthia Shibao, Cael created a STEM camp for the preschool that included a week-long in-person camp and all the supplies and materials needed.

“I got an e-mail this fall in which Cael expressed that he wanted to volunteer to do something for the school, like a virtual STEM camp. So, on the Friday before he graduated from Lahainaluna, he dropped a thumb drive and a huge box of supplies. On the drive were three daily activities that he recorded himself sharing the project, reading a story relating to each project and step-by-step instructions for each activity,” Shibao related last week.

“He also had 24 individual bags for the students that contained all of the materials they would need for the projects,” she continued. “They learned about and created a catapult, another day they learned about geometry, and on the third day, about structure and base to create a house made of play dough, playing cards, pipe cleaners and popsicle sticks. And in the end, he donated the three books that were used for the camp to the school.”

“Cael also offered that he could build something for HIPS if needed, and it just so happened that one of the teachers needed a lunch box shelf for the classroom. He took measurements, and a few weeks later he came back with a perfectly-sized lunch box shelf for the students.”

Yasutake will attend Columbia University this fall and will major in Bio-medical Engineering.

“He is definitely not one who likes to have any limelight on him, but he was brought up with a strong sense of Lahaina pride and always giving back to this community,” said Shibao.

“I cannot say enough about him and especially about his ‘ohana, for it was with them that the seed was planted. They instilled the importance of community pride and giving back, which they have all done so unselfishly and without expecting anything back. We cannot wait to see what Cael will accomplish in this next chapter. Whatever he does and wherever he goes, Lahaina will not be far from his heart!”