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Wheeler senior's high school path winds through Hawaii and across the stage

Even though the show was among the many things canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, Wheeler senior Clayton Carini doesn't regret the amount of time, money and passion he put into writing and running a parody adaptation of "Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith."

"It was definitely a tall order considering I was also acting, between remembering my own lines and making sure everyone else was on board," he said, adding that he also did the set design. "It really was a production of passion, it was something I really loved, it was something different."

Carini said he was in the school's performance of "A Christmas Carol" with his friend TJ Thompson, and they didn't want that to be their last time performing together. Both are fans of "Star Wars," and he felt "Episode III" especially had a lot of "memeability" to it, so he started writing a script and got his classmates involved for a student-run production.

As he worked on the 40-page script, he said he watched the movie probably 15 times, and researched how other schools developed adaptations of the franchise's movies to avoid copyright infringement. They held five or six rehearsals before the school closed in March.

English teacher Jes Cawley, who taught Carini when he was a freshman and senior, said he is an excellent writer and thinker and noted that he's always ready to participate in class discussions.

"It's almost like working with a colleague more than just a student because there's so much that he absorbs and researches on his own to bring to the table for class discussion or for the senior project or projects that he's doing on his own," she said.

Cawley is also Wheeler's senior project coordinator; all graduating seniors work with a mentor in a topic they're interested in, keep journals from their time in the field, and then prepare a research paper and portfolio and present their work. Carini went to Hawaii last summer to study endangered ecosystems and ancient Hawaiian culture on the Big Island, and his research paper focused on how society can progress while respecting and preserving those ecological and cultural resources.

"He did an awesome job, and on top of it he really admired his mentor," she said. "I could tell from his journals how much he got out of it and then from the idea in his research paper that he took the experience to heart."

During the trip, Carini stayed with family, picking coffee on the family farm and working with Richard Stevens, a history and humanities lecturer at Hawaii Community College Pālamanui in Kona. With Stevens, he worked on restoring not only ancient trails but also the lowland dry forest, the state's most endangered ecosystem, that those trails traverse.

"It was really about growing an appreciation for the people and meeting so many people that are native Hawaiian and seeing how much the land meant to them and how much their ancestry and culture meant to them," he said. While he went into the trip thinking he'd be doing a lot of trail mapping, he also found himself harvesting seeds from the endangered wiliwili tree and exploring lava tube caves that Hawaiians centuries ago used for shelter from the rain.

Stevens said he enjoyed working with Carini, being able to tune into his experience coming from so far away and introducing him to Hawaiian culture. As part of his ongoing reforestation project, Carini helped him promote and facilitate an open house event, in which members of the community plant native trees in dedication to someone special to create what Stevens called a "forest of loved souls."

"He's just such an amiable guy. He does everything with alacrity, and he's a hardworker," Stevens said. "It was wonderful having him here for his bright spirit as his contribution to the joyfulness that is very much a part of restoration activities. It's hard work, but everybody knows that this is what the Earth needs."

Carini wants to pursue a career as a therapist and will be going to UConn in the fall to study psychology, a field he chose after his experience at Rotary Youth Leadership Awards conferences. The regional RYLA events are held twice a year over a long weekend at Camp Hazen in Chester, and he's attended both as a participant and as a facilitator.

"My experience at RYLA really helped out with that considering the skills I learned from the program and then being brought back to help other people. I kind of had an affinity for that type of thing," he said.


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