Lessons in leadership

Hawaii 1

Experience gained in Key Club helped this former member become service royalty.

By Samantha Kupiainen

Kathryn Teruya, a born and raised island girl from Hawaii, has held many titles in her lifetime: dental student, Key Club president, lieutenant governor of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District and Miss Hawaii Teen USA 2012.

Last year, she added Miss Hawaii 2017 to her ever-growing list.

On June 10, 2017, Teruya was awarded the 73rd Miss Hawaii title at the historic 1922 Hawaii Theatre in downtown Honolulu. In addition to the crown, she received the Miss America/First Hawaiian Bank Community Service Award. And Key Club, she says, helped make it all possible.

“Everything I learned in Key Club, I used in Miss Hawaii,” she says. “It was the first time I had committed to serving my community.”

She became involved with Key Club when she was a high school freshman wanting to build leadership skills while fulfilling a craving for service. As a sophomore — the same year she ran for Miss Hawaii Teen USA — she decided to run for Key Club tech chair, then a new position.

“No one really knew what was going on with it,” Teruya recalls. “But it was a job on the chair, so I was really excited about it.”

The following year, Teruya became the Key Club’s president. And in her senior year, she was elected lieutenant governor of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District.

“It was a lot,” she says, “but I loved it.”


How much? Teruya found herself doing community service every weekend in high school. By her senior year, she had logged more than 400 service hours.

“I didn’t even realize it was getting to be that high,” Teruya says. “It was something I just absolutely loved to do.”

After high school, Teruya studied biology in college, with the goal of attending dental school after graduation. Her studies prevented her from being as involved in community service projects as she had been as a Key Clubber.

So when the opportunity to run for Miss Hawaii presented itself, Teruya saw it as the perfect opportunity to get involved with service again. And she called on her Key Club experience to help boost her chances by better marketing herself for the position and following through on commitments.

“As a high schooler, setting up monthly meetings, finding a service project every month and sending out newsletters, all of it played a direct role in Miss Hawaii.”

With title in hand and crown on head, Teruya began her royal duties, which included speaking at a variety of Hawaii high schools. It was then that she realized the true impact of volunteering.

“I always knew community service was good,” she says, “but I didn’t realize how important it was until I really immersed myself in it. I was able to fully run with it. My year wasn’t about making money or a salary — in fact, I didn’t have one. It was about the service and what I could do for the Hawaii community. That was my main concern.”

It’s insight she hopes current Key Club members can share. Developing leadership and service skills, she says, starts with looking at every single detail of a service project to see where you can help.

“It’s the little things that people really remember,” Teruya advises. “It’s kind of like giving a gift. The content is important, but sometimes it takes that little extra bit of wrapping, like a nicely tied bow, that makes all the difference.”

That can mean arriving early to help the service project coordinator or staying late to pitch in with clean up. Going that extra mile shows what you can offer that no one else does.

On June 2 of this year, Teruya’s reign as Miss Hawaii ended. And she realized how far Key Club had helped her travel.

“Freshman year, I wasn’t the kid to stand up in front of people and make a speech. I didn’t see myself as a leader,” she says. “I was able to rise up as a leader because of the opportunities Key Club provided me.”


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