Polynesian freshman finds her place in choir


Dory Smith’s #Worldwide project

She had that one brush and a mirror. She was a little girl singing away her childhood blues through the brush bristles, imitating the superstars on the Grammys or MTV Awards.

Freshmen Lela Hautau grew up in Pacific Grove, California, after her parents moved from Tongatapu, which is the main island in the Polynesian Kingdom of Tonga, 25 years ago.

Since she was a child, she cherished her singing.

“I’ve been singing pretty much ever since I was a child,” Hautau said. “I was in choir growing up and often sang in church. I believe singing is one of my God-given gifts.”

Singing is also a love she shares with her family.

“We all sing,” Hautau said. “My sisters and I often sing in the community, church and school together.”

After her visit last November, she knew Baker was a place she could call home, especially since her vocal skills landed her a spot in the choir.

“Lela clearly loves being in the middle of the music-making at every step of the journey,” Director of Choral Ensembles Cathy Crispino said.

Being in a place that feels like home and having creative freedom has made adjusting easy for Hautau.

“Pacific Grove is a small town, so Baker is kind of the same because everybody knows everybody,” Hautau said. “But if I was born in Tongatapu and went to school there, it may have been a little harder adjusting because there’s so many people on that island.”

It didn’t take long for her to find close friends and stability in the choir.

“I have an amazing roommate who always keeps me laughing,” Hautau said. “Being in the choir has definitely helped me make new friends and I know I have found a place in the choir.”

But growing up in warmer regions has made the Kansas weather the most difficult part about adapting to the Baker campus.

“I bought winter coats for the first time specifically for school here,” Hautau said. “Hands down, I miss the ocean at home.”

She added that food and family being so far away makes her campus experience bittersweet.

“I miss my family of course, eating at In-N-Out,” Hautau said. “It’s my favorite fast-food restaurant.”

Aside from continuing to sing, Hautau’s main goal is to graduate with an education degree.

Aspiring to be an educator has motivated her to stay in touch with her roots.

“My goal in life is to establish a nationwide organization that helps Polynesians or first-generation students further their education,” Hautau said. “I would also like to go back to my parents’ island and reach out their community, education-wise.”

For now, Hautau is making a name for herself at Baker with a smile and many acts of kindness.

“I know Lela is the perfect fit for Baker because she loves people,” Hautau’s roommate, Anna Eichten, said. “She loves helping those around her. She is just real and genuine.”

That genuinety is shown to her choir family as well.

“She brings joyful energy to the choir on a daily basis,” Crispino said. “She has a gift for lifting up those around her and it’s more than going through the motions of smiling and greeting her friends.”

No matter where she is headed after graduation, Hautau believes she is making her parents proud and finds it inspiring every time she gets to go back home.

“It is a privilege to go back home and humbling to see where my parents grew up,” Hautau said.

Family ties are valued in Tongan culture, and she is trying her best to make her family proud.

“I am a first-generation student, and I know that attending college is making them extremely proud,” Hautau said.

The old bristle brush and the mirror are in the past, but her friends believe she has a bright future with a microphone and in a classroom.

“She contributes by being so selfless,” Eichten said. “I know Baker will make her a wonderful teacher someday.”