McKinley’s Alumni Educators Enlighten Their Passion For Teaching


By Dominic Niyo

McKinley Alumni Staff shared their love for their job, and how they found their career as a way to give back to the school community. From the top left: Joseph Cho, Imialoa’a Richardson, and Valerie Dao. From the bottom left: Travis Watanabe, Karen Mirikitani, and Manuel Pulido.

Dominic Niyo, assistant editor

Since McKinley High School’s foundation in 1865, which was then named Fort Street English Day School, many of its alumni have chosen to return as its educators. At this present day, there are more than 20 alumni who graduated from McKinley and chose to serve at their Alma mater. Here are six of their experiences. 

Joseph Cho is a ninth-grade history teacher who graduated from McKinley in 1972. He has over 42 years of teaching experience, spending 30 years of teaching in Oregon. This school year is his 13th year teaching in Hawaii. He says that the most rewarding aspect of his job is that he can influence students during their first year of high school. 

“If my students can be a better and more considerate person than when they came in, then I would’ve done my duty,” Cho said. 

One piece of advice he would give to current freshmen is to be diligent. 

“You’re at a bus stop. You’ve got four years at that bus stop, and every year a different bus arrives.” Cho said. “If you don’t get on the right bus, that ride could be longer than four years.” 

Travis Watanabe is a special education teacher who graduated from McKinley in 2010. He also is a minister at a local congregation outside of school. He says that working with students taught him many things, but the most valuable lesson he learned was the importance of patience. 

“I had a student who for a long time struggled with inconsistency. To get that student to work productively, it took a lot of time, a lot of pushing, and a lot of prodding.” Watanabe said. “Working with this student taught me to be flexible and to believe that if you make some adjustments when pursuing your goals, you can achieve them.”

After some time and effort, the student he worked with is now flourishing, Watanabe said.

Valerie Dao is this school year’s student activities coordinator, she also graduated from McKinley in 2010. She regularly teaches math but is substituting for the position this year. Dao, along with the student council, is responsible for organizing school events such as the Lighting of the M, Christmas Village, and the Hall of Honor. She says that the most gratifying part of her job is seeing the joy the students have after they’ve completed a successful event.

“The event planning itself is very stressful, but seeing all the hard work that I and the student (council) poured in is very rewarding,” Dao said. 

Manuel Pulido is a retired army Lieutenant Colonel who now teaches JROTC. He has spent a total of 31 years in the army, with 10 years in the National Guard and 21 years on active duty. Apart from instructing cadets, he also advises the Filipino Club and the Cybersecurity Club, who are more commonly known as Cyber Tigers. He said that the reason he chose to return to his Alma mater after decades of military service was that he liked the JROTC’s mission of motivating people to become better citizens. 

“I was in the ROTC program when I was a student here. I felt like my experience with working at the Pentagon, working with different levels of command, and deploying overseas would help the next generation of students.” Pulido said. “It just felt like the natural step.”

He considers his job as a JROTC instructor to be one of the best he’s ever had. He claims that being surrounded by a positive group of students throughout the day keeps him motivated.

“I enjoy working with the students here,” Pulido said. “I see there’s a lot of hope for our country.” 

Karen Mirikitani graduated from McKinley in 1980. She recently joined the McKinley staff in October of 2022 to become a paraprofessional English Language tutor. Outside of school, she’s a practicing Methodist who has a passion for art. She says that the reason she chose to return to her Alma mater after being away for more than 40 years is that she wanted to repay all the opportunities McKinley had offered her during her time as a student. 

“McKinley prepared me with manageable challenges to overcome fear and the unseen,” Mirikitani said. “I want to give back in both tangible and intangible ways and means.”

As a student, she learned many valuable lessons, including the importance of being open-minded.

“One can learn to appreciate what one has, by offering and sharing with others,” Mirikitani said. 

Imialoa’a Richardson is a special education history teacher who graduated from McKinley in 1998. He has nine years of teaching experience as well as over 20 years of experience as a volunteer coach. During his time as a student, he won numerous athletic championships, including being a two-time Eastern Division Champion, a 160lb Individual OIA Champion, and a Brute NWCA National champion in 1998. 

“As a student, I learned that McKinley’s pride and tradition run deep. I enjoyed representing McKinley and participating in sports during high school,” Richardson said. “My father and my previous coaches motivated me.” 

He says being able to educate is something that he cherishes every day.

“I teach my students to love and be confident with themselves,” Richardson said. “It’s very rewarding for me to see them grow.”