WAIKIKI — Ever since she was five years old, Punahou's Paige Hilliard has attended National Letter of Intent signing day ceremonies.
On Wednesday morning, she got to experience the same joy that countless student-athletes took pleasure in over the years.
Hilliard was among 40 other Hawaii high school seniors that put ink to paper at the annual Education First early NLI signing day ceremony held at the Waikiki Elks Lodge.
It was just the fourth signing day event put on by Education First, but one of many that Hilliard and her family has been a part of in the past 13 years.
Back then, the event was put on by Doris Sullivan and the Pacific Island Athletic Alliance, a non-profit organization that helped high school student-athletes get scholarships to play at the next level.
PIAA also hosted several combines and camps to go along with the signing day ceremonies, which the Hilliard family has helped with ever since its oldest son Dalton — a 2009 Punahou alumnus that went on to play collegiate football at UCLA — was in eighth grade.
"Ever since I was five, my family has been volunteering with the program because my oldest brother Dalton was a part of it, so my mom was like this is a great opportunity for us to give back as a family," said Hilliard.
Hilliard, who remembers all the 4 a.m. wake-up calls before each of the three yearly signing day ceremonies, got up an hour early to get ready for the first event where she would be a participant, rather than a volunteer.
"After seeing Dalton go through this process, seeing my other brother Kamden off to college, just being able to be here now and be in their shoes and see it all come to fruition, it's amazing," said Hilliard, who will play women's volleyball for Louisiana State University and study environmental engineering.
Still, old habits die hard as Hilliard volunteered by her mom to be one of two seniors to give a convocation speech at the event.
"These past years of athletics have been fun, and I wouldn't trade it for the world," Hilliard said before a standing-room only crowd.
As for her decision to play collegiately at LSU, Hilliard said one of the determining factors was that the school has a "strong, tight-knit community that's very similar to Hawaii.
"I wanted something different from Hawaii because I lived there my entire life, but I got a lot of the Hawaii feelings because the coaches are amazing, my teammates are amazing human beings and I just knew I would fit in well and be comfortable in that community."
For Hilliard's mother, Amalia, signing day was a mixture of emotions ranging from excitement to bittersweet and being proud. Even though Paige is the youngest child in the family, Amalia said she's still probably going to help out with the event.
"While you're doing it for (the kids), you're really doing it for their families," said the elder Hilliard. "Being able to support other families and see them go through that is a great feeling. That's why I think we get up every morning, because you're getting to celebrate that, and Hawaii celebrates it better than anywhere else in the nation."
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