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Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Ian Tapu '08 is the first in his family to graduate from college
When Ian Tapu leads his classmates as Class Marshall at Dartmouth's Commencement ceremony this Sunday morning, the majority of the other Polynesians he'll see will be his family. Tapu, from Hauula, Hawaii, is the first in his family to graduate from college, and twenty-five family members have traveled from Hawaii, Virginia, and Alabama to see him receive his diploma from Dartmouth.
"In my experience, Polynesians are underrepresented in higher education," says Tapu. "In my high school, which is predominately Polynesian, I was encouraged not to apply to Dartmouth."
This, unfortunately, was not the only roadblock to college. His family suffered tragedy and hardship during his childhood. His mother was a single parent at age 18. She married and had two more children, one of whom died when Tapu was only six. The family struggles financially, and Tapu routinely worked three jobs while at Dartmouth to be able to contribute money when possible. He has had to learn to balance his academic, social, and work responsibilities. And, since his father passed away during his sophomore year at Dartmouth, he's become a father figure to his 16-year-old sister.
"As hard as things can be, you need to remember that they are all temporary things," he says.
His grandparents knew that an education was important, and encouraged Tapu to do well in school. His mother initially thought that sports were the key to success, but now she is a believer in academics. Tapu and his mother are closely connected, and he credits her with instilling a deep work ethic. A good student in high school, Tapu took advantage of numerous opportunities to travel, as an exchange student to Japan, and to summer school programs at both Yale and Georgetown University.
"I'm willing to take chances," says Tapu. "I love Dartmouth, but I'm always reminded that I'm an 'other.' At home, everyone looks alike; here, I'm a minority. I really pushed myself here to try new things and find a community."
For example, Tapu auditioned for and earned a spot with Dartmouth's hip hop dance troupe called SHEBA. He says that more than 50 people tried out, but only six new members were chosen his freshman year. Many members of this group have formal dance training, and Tapu only credits many hours spent at high school dances.
Teaching hip hop to students for physical education credit is one of Tapu's jobs on campus. He also works for the Center for Women and Gender at Dartmouth promoting "The Men's Project," a initiative that explores gender issues from men's perspectives. He also works as an outreach intern for Dartmouth's Admissions Office, helping recruit students from underrepresented groups and preparing them for Dartmouth. Also during his time at Dartmouth, Tapu has traveled to Yurburg, Lithuania, for Tucker Foundation's Project Preservation, a program that restores abandoned Jewish cemeteries, and he worked in South Dakota with the Cheyenne River Youth Project on the Eagle Butte Reservation.
"I tell prospies [prospective students] that Dartmouth will challenge you - try to be prepared," says Tapu. "I also let them know that there are resources on campus that can help, and that there are many opportunities to affect change on campus."
Tapu certainly left his mark on campus life. As the programming chair of his fraternity, Kappa Kappa Kappa, Tapu organized two significant community service activities. He arranged for a giant Easter egg hunt in Collis Student Center for needy families, with treats that included coupons for school supplies and gift certificates to local restaurants. He also mobilized Dartmouth's fraternity and sorority community to host trick or treating for Upper Valley residents on Webster Avenue in Hanover, home to many Greek organizations. Both were a huge success.
"I know from personal experience that it's hard to take charity," says Tapu. "I wanted to create events where people could come together comfortably, receive a little something, and make it more personal."
A major in Native American Studies, after commencement, Tapu will travel to Germany with the Humanity in Action Fellows Program, a program for college students and recent graduates to come together to learn about human rights in an effort to foster tolerance and understanding. He also says he plans to audition for professional hip hop groups in California sometime in the future.
"My motto is to always push myself, because if I don't, I won't know how much I can offer until I really put myself out there."
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