Kearns freshman named Absolutely Incredible Kid
Jun 20, 2019 01:36PM
By Jet Burnham
Laua Tafili was surprised with gifts from local businesses as a reward for overcoming incredible hurdles to excel in his freshman year. (Granite School District)
By Jet Burnham | [email protected]
Members of Granite Education Foundation sifted through more than 500 nominations to find the most Absolutely Incredible Kid in the district.
“The reality is, there are many students who are facing incredible circumstances, difficult circumstances, challenging circumstances,” said Ben Horsley, communications director for Granite District. “To read some of these stories was quite compelling and very moving.”
This year, Kearns High school freshman Palalaua Tafili was chosen as the district’s Absolutely Incredible Kid. Palalaua, who goes by Laua, lived in Samoa where he lost his brother and his father at a young age. He and his younger sister were saved from starvation and a life of poverty when his father’s brother and his wife, Siona and Pamela Tafili, adopted them.
When Laua came to Utah, he had pneumonia and was malnourished. He had rotten teeth, infected bug bite sores and hearing damage from untreated infections that required surgery.
Luau said his parents have told him that if they hadn't adopted him and brought him to the U.S., he wouldn’t have survived. Luau has handled his many physical and mental challenges with a positive attitude, said his mom.
“He’s a great kid,” she said. “He really is incredible; he’s amazing.”
Laua didn’t speak any English when entered second grade, but he worked hard to catch up.
“He went from not knowing any English to now he reads at or above grade level,” said Pamela. “I just love that he’s willing to do the work to be successful because it takes him, I think, a lot more than maybe other kids to get good grades.”
Pamela is proud that teachers have told her that Laua is the most respectful child they’ve ever taught.
“The other thing I love about him is he’s the most caring kid,” said Pamela. “He’s always worried about other people and how they feel and if someone’s being treated unfairly. He just is awesome that way.”
She said as the oldest of four children, Luau is responsible, setting a good example and helping take care his brothers, a toddler and a 1-year-old. From a young age, he was responsible for taking care of his sister, who just completed sixth grade.
“I always knew that if he was there, I didn’t need to worry about her,” said Pamela.
Siona said Laua will drop whatever he is doing if he sees someone that needs help. He is also an Eagle Scout.
“We are very proud of him,” said Siona. “He’s always been a good kid.”
Laua plays basketball and football for Kearns and is a drummer in the jazz band. He is also a member of the National Junior Honor Society.
The student body went wild when Laua was announced as the Absolutely Incredible Kid during an end-of-the-year assembly. He received gifts from Granite Education Foundation and local businesses, including a $1,000 scholarship from Granite Credit Union, a laptop computer from Valcom, athletic name-brand clothing and shoes, tickets to the Salt Lake Bees and a gift certificate to keep him fed all summer at the new snack bar at Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center.
Laua was excited to receive the gifts but humble.
“It's crazy to see how people can go through things like I did, but some people are going through worse things than I have,” he said.
Granite School board member Nicole McDermott said Laua is just one example of the many students overcoming hardships. Part of her job was to review the graduating class of Kearns High School before their graduation ceremony.
“I sat in the graduation review and listened to six stories of kids that just are amazing, that have overcome a lot,” she said. “So, there are a lot of kids that really are deserving of things like this.”
Board President Karen Winder said every year she looks forward to hearing about resilient, courageous teens who have worked hard to qualify for graduation.
“This is the fun side of the job,” said Winder. “I think if you ask any board member, our favorite thing is being at the school. We love visiting schools and getting to see these recognitions and support, or see our administrators support, our awesome, awesome kids. That's why we do what we do.”