2016 graduate from Kailua High School in Kailua, HI, and undergraduate at Hawaii Pacific University

Zachary Espino epitomizes what it means to be a student leader. He was heavily involved in both student council and the National Honor Society (NHS) during his high school career. He realized his leadership potential through his participation in both programs and continues his educational journey as a political science major at Hawaii Pacific University.

Advise: When did you first know you wanted to participate in student council and National Honor Society? What did you hope to gain from the experience?

Espino: I wanted to get more involved in my school. I was already involved in student council in middle school. The transition from middle to high school brought me into high school student council and student government. Through student council, I had the intention of learning all about event planning and service leadership. Through National Honor Society, I had the intention of learning all about service and how to get more involved in the school and community.

Advise: How did your involvement in the National Association of Student Councils (NASC) and NHS help shape your high school experience?

Espino: It provided me avenues to serve my peers and make a difference through the planning and execution of school events and service projects. NASC provided me an opportunity to learn all about the meaning of leadership, and NHS provided me the chance to learn about service to others and how you can make an impact by getting involved. Throughout my high school career, I had one ultimate goal: to serve and best represent my peers through the different roles I played on student council and in NHS.

Advise: You recently wrote an article for the community voice section of Honolulu Civil Beat that spoke of your views on standardized testing. Could you expand on how you came to realize testing plays an important role in education?

Espino: I realized the importance of testing after coming to realize that we are, at times, compared with our peers based on how well we perform. With testing we were given the opportunity to see where we performed best and how we could work to improve as students. I took my first standardized test in the second grade and over the years I learned how to take these tests and what strategies I could use to perform better. Testing played an important role in my life because it helped guide my educational career throughout the public school system. My parents took my test scores seriously, and it challenged me to work hard and do what I could to succeed and excel.

Advise: How did your involvement in NASC/NHS influence your choice of major? When did you know political science was the right choice for you?

Espino: Throughout the different activities and events that I had been involved in, I learned all about serving others. I had a passion for being involved in student council. During my senior year, I had the amazing opportunity to serve as my school’s student body president, which gave me a chance to make a positive difference in my school and in the community. My tenure as president made me the realize that I wanted to continue serving others through a future career in public service. As I major in political science, I am learning all about the political scene and have a deeper understanding about our government.

Advise: What would you say to a student who is considering joining NASC or aspiring to join NHS?

Espino: This will be one of the most amazing opportunities and experiences that you will go through. Through student council and NHS, you learn about service leadership, you grow as a leader, and you engage with other students who share a common goal of making a difference for the school and community. Through your service, you are able to represent your peers and be a voice for them in either NASC or NHS. These experiences can and will help you in the future, because you are learning all the time.

Advise: How did your involvement in student council and NHS make you a better leader? 

Espino: I believe that my involvement in student council and NHS made me a better leader because of the various ideas that are instilled in both organizations. Through the different lessons and activities that I have been through, I have gained a deeper understanding of leadership, and I believe that I have strengthened my leadership skills. I believe that I have learned a lot, and it is through NASC and NHS that I was able to gain the knowledge and skills that I possess today. 

Advise: You served as a student representative for Hawaii for the United States Senate Youth program. Could you share some details about that unique experience? 

Espino: It was such an amazing opportunity to serve as one of two students to represent Hawaii in Washington, D.C., for the United States Senate Youth program. It provided me with an opportunity to engage with other leaders from all across the nation. It allowed me to meet so many of our nation’s top leaders like President Barack Obama. I was able to see our government at work firsthand while in our nation’s capital. We had so many opportunities to learn and expand our knowledge about our government and public service. It was my first time in Washington, D.C., and it was such a refreshing experience to be able to have the chance to participate in Washington Week and to be able to visit such important sites. The program invested so much time and effort to ensure that all those who participated had a memorable experience and learned so many great things.

Advise: Did the service work you did with student council or NHS ignite an interest in helping others? How so?

Espino: The service work that I was involved in with NASC and NHS did ignite that calling to help others because we were constantly planning service projects with my peers. We all shared a common goal of making a difference, and my involvement in NASC and NHS provided me that opportunity. I learned how to give back to people without expecting anything in return. You feel good, and you will feel accomplished after you help someone.

Advise: Please share your fondest memories from your time in student council and NHS. 

Espino: Some of my fondest memories were when my peers elected me as student body president during my senior year and vice president of NHS during my junior year. It was through my roles in NASC and NHS that I was able to give back and be a strong voice and representative for them. I had learned so much from my peers and teachers, and that allowed me to best serve. I felt empowered that I could do even more by enacting change through my roles in NASC and NHS.

Advise: Will you continue to hone your leadership skills by getting involved in college organizations? If so, which ones? 

Espino: I believe that I will get involved with college student government and bring the skills that I have learned from NASC and NHS to best represent and serve my fellow college students. College will be a different group of students-more numerous, diverse, mature, and with different priorities. It will be a different type of environment, which I believe will provide me a learning opportunity to see how I can make a difference on a college campus.

To read Zachary’s article titled “Not Broken: A Student’s Take on Hawaii Schools,” visit www.civilbeat.org/2016/04/not-broken-a-students-take-on-hawaii-schools.