Seeing Possibility, Building Solutions – Carlton '92 and Cindy Yuen
For Carlton '92 and Cindy Yuen, Punahou is a place where possibility becomes reality. Carlton experienced how the School nurtures potential both in his own life and now, in the lives of his children.
For Carlton and his two brothers, Clifford '89 and Charles '94, the promise of a Punahou education came with sacrifices. When their late father, Clifford, had to retire from his job as a public school teacher due to health problems, remaining at Punahou – even with the financial aid they received – seemed unlikely. Luckily, mother Sheron stepped in, applying for a job in the cafeteria that saw the two younger brothers through high school.
The Yuen family at Kosasa Community. From left: Calissa, Carlton '92, Corban '28, Sheron and Cindy. Not pictured: Caitlin '22.
Carlton remembers these difficult years: "My dad wouldn't buy any new clothing; we never ate out; we never bought new cars. My dad wore these socks that would always hang around his ankles and I asked him once why he didn't buy new ones. His response was to ask me if I still liked going to Punahou. I said of course, and he replied, 'OK then, no new socks for me.' When my mom started working in the cafeteria, I couldn't have been more proud of her. Some people would have been embarrassed, but we were just thankful."
Not only a beloved face in the cafeteria for over 14 years, Sheron also volunteered to sew the annual May Day and Holokū court costumes, something she still does today.
The sacrifices paid off. Carlton followed his older brother's footsteps to University of California, Los Angeles and graduated summa cum laude, continuing to medical school at University of California, Davis, where he met Cindy. The two eventually decided to return to Hawai'i to raise their family – Caitlin '22, Corban '28 and 4-year-old Calissa. When the time came for Caitlin to apply for kindergarten at Punahou, the Yuens weren't sure they could afford the tuition – Carlton had just started his own ophthalmology practice, which was still not making a profit.
Once more, Sheron stepped in and told them, "Apply first, and if she gets in, we'll figure out a way to make it work." While they would have qualified for financial aid, Carlton was adamant about not accepting it because, "I benefited from it and now I was a physician. I felt it was our turn to give back so that someone else in a position like my parents could get the help."
Luckily, Carlton's practice took off and both children are now blossoming at Punahou. "It builds the students not just academically, but as a whole – socially, physically, athletically, emotionally. I see our kids learning how to ask good questions and not being afraid to make mistakes and learn from them."
This is partly what has inspired the Yuens to name a sustainable studio in the Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Community, taking advantage of the Mauka to Makai Match and Carlton's 25th Reunion year.
"This isn't just paying it forward or giving back," he explains. "Our goal is to help Punahou train kids to be leaders in the community. When we were here, maybe it was about training doctors, lawyers and dentists, but the world is evolving so quickly, I don't think anyone knows what's next. To us, the Kosasa Community means going outside the traditional box. Memorizing a multiplication table doesn't necessarily lead to creativity or build someone who can drive change and progress. We'd like to see Hawai'i thrive and that begins with providing these kids with the tools to stretch their minds, to look for the problems we need to solve so that they can help us figure them out."
For more information, including how you can participate in the Mauka to Makai Match in support of the Sidney and Minnie Kosasa Community, visit campaign.punahou.edu/kosasamatch.