From Ri'katak student to RMI Ambassador: Charles Paul returns to his stomping grounds
February 8, 2013
U.S. ARMY KWAJALEIN ATOLL, Marshall Islands - Former Kwajalein Junior/Senior High School graduate and Ri'katak student Charles Paul visited Kwajalein Schools Jan. 31 and demonstrated to the student body what a "regular kid" can grow up to accomplish with hard work and accountability.
Paul graduated from KHS in 1999 as part of the first Ri'katak class. He graduated from Washington College in 2003. He worked for the Marshallese government in various capacities after college. In 2011, Paul was appointed the Republic of the Marshall Islands Ambassador to the United States.
Officially, Paul visited Kwajalein with the Flying Doctors of America. They are a non-profit organization based out of Georgia that offers medical missions around the world. They were in the RMI for two weeks to provide medical clinics on Majuro, Ebeye and six outer atolls.
While at Kwajalein, Paul was invited to speak to Kwajalein Schools students at the Davye Davis Multi-Purpose Room. He was welcomed by U.S. Army Kwajalein Atoll Commander Col. Shannon Boehm.
"I am very happy and honored on behalf of USAKA and KPS (Kwajalein Public Schools) to have him come in and talk with you all today," Boehm said. "He has a good message to provide you."
Ric Fullerton, senior government and economics teacher, introduced Paul and reminisced about his student years at KHS.
"Like the current members of the Ri'katak community, he rode the ferry back and forth every day, and dealt with the struggles of having to bounce back and forth between two cultures with the respective demands and issues," Fullerton said. "He also, however, made the best of the benefits that his unique situation presented."
"The coolest thing about his story, though, is that Charles is one of you," Fullerton continued. "If you look through some of the yearbooks from Charles' time with us, you'll see pictures of a regular kid."
He played the saxophone in band concerts and sang in the choir. He played basketball, volleyball and softball. He was voted "the guy with the 100-watt smile" in his senior yearbook. He was a part of National Honor Society. Now, 13 years later, he is the RMI Ambassador.
Paul met with and had lunch with the current Ri'katak students.
"I had the same circumstances," he told them. "I grew up on Ebeye. I took the ferry every morning. I was never late to class. I did all my homework. When it got rough, I didn't make any excuses; I always did my work. If I can do it, … [you] also can do it."
Paul thanked the command for coordinating his visit to Kwajalein. He was delighted to be able to see his old teachers and friends he went to high school with here. There are still four teachers at KHS who taught Paul when he was in school: Barbara Bicanich, Fullerton, Bonita Oyamot and Dick Shields.
"It's a treat for me personally," Paul said to the students. "I wanted the opportunity to give back any way I could to the place that started it all for me -- Kwajalein School system. I learned a lot and I owe everything that I am and everything that I have to the school, to my teachers and to my fellow students. I can't say enough about the wonderful opportunity that I had as a student, and the education I got as a student. I am so thrilled and I am so honored to stand before you this afternoon to just talk."
Paul talked about his job with the students and allowed them to ask him questions. While some students asked thought-provoking and serious questions, some of the elementary students were eager to know how many Dinseylands there are and what the White House looks like.
To a certain degree, Paul said he knew he wanted to work for the Marshallese government when he graduated.
"I felt that the most meaningful way for me to give back was to serve the government." Paul said, and then told the students what it means to be an ambassador. "You are the personal representative of your country. Everything I say and everything I do reflects on my government."
His job involves a lot of traveling; he has already visited nine different countries. He gets to meet a lot of people -- people seen on the news. Paul was invited to the White House to present his credentials to the President on Sept. 9, 2011. The ceremony took place in the Oval Office. Paul was one of the 12 ambassadors presenting credentials that day. The First Lady was also present. As Paul was announced and shook the President's hand, Michelle said, "Oh, two island boys." President Obama grew up in Hawaii. Paul said he was stunned and didn't know what to say.
Students were interested in Paul's transition to college in the States, since many of them will be making that same transition soon. He said the scariest part was leaving his parents. The best thing was meeting new people and experiencing a different culture.
"I had a head start going to Kwaj. I interacted with a lot of kids from the States," he said. "But it's different when you're living with a different culture. For me, it was exciting in the fact that I was immersing myself into a new culture and learning new things."
Paul gave the students advice for their future. When Paul was young, he said he wanted to be the President of the United States. "Now I know I can't because I'm not a U.S. citizen," he said. "But, you have to dream and you have to think you can do big things. But before you do anything, you have to put in the work; you have to do your best in school. That will lead to bigger and better things. School is very important. It builds your foundation. … With hard work you can do anything."
Paul lives and works in Washington, D.C. He is currently working toward his master's degree in finance from John Hopkins University.