When Zachary Tocher ‘18 was approached by IPA Student Life Coordinator Elissa Minamishin about creating a virtual commencement video for ISLAND PACIFIC ACADEMY’s class of 2020 he jumped at the opportunity.
“I instantly said yes – there was not a second thought about it,” shares Tocher. “Although, at the time, I didn’t know what was going to come of it or how big a project it would actually be.”
It turned out to be an enormous project, with a lot of tacit expectations. This video, afterall, would take the place of the traditional, formal commencement ceremony that every other IPA graduating class has been honored with, and that every high school student and their parents dream of. And given that the seniors of the class of 2020 had already faced so much disappointment over the ending to their final year of high school, there was an additional desire from everyone involved to make their commencement as special as possible despite the constraints imposed by social distancing requirements and health concerns.
Luckily, Tocher was uniquely suited to take on such a daunting challenge with his combination of a nurtured sense of confidence, visual media skills, learned resourcefulness, and empathy for his fellow Navigators.
Tocher started at ISLAND PACIFIC ACADEMY in grade 6 as a middle school student. He has described IPA as his “second home”, and shared that the sense of belonging he found at IPA was exactly what he thought a school should be – a haven for students where they can feel at ease knowing they will be taken care of by their teachers, the school, and the community.
“I had a good connection with Mr. Kash (Shah), Mrs. (Brandi) Dul, and Ms. (Elissa) Minamishin,” shares Tocher. “They taught me a lot about not doubting myself and helped me see my potential.They really pushed me in every aspect of my creative endeavors. I owe a lot to these three teachers for instilling my confidence and helping me understand not only school, but also life.”
Those connections allowed him the courage to pursue his creative passions while at IPA – including working in theatre and creating graphic designs for school events – and even after graduation, returning as IPA’s theatre technical director. Tocher has continued to pursue creative outlets while attending the University of Hawaiʻi – West Oʻahu and working full-time at his family’s shop.
“I’ve balanced work and school while also writing and creating YouTube videos, live-streaming on Twitch, and getting photography gigs to sustain my creative needs,” says Tocher. “It’s been a challenge, but a welcomed one. I love doing everything that I do – it’s part of who I am at my core.”
Tocher got into photography while in middle school, starting with one of his mom’s cameras, and has found his passion in portraiture and lifestyle photography. He was creating and editing videos even before that, starting at age 13, while documenting adventures with his friends with his GoPro.
“I got my first boost of confidence in video editing when Mrs. Dul asked me to make a theatre video for a senior project in her class,” recalls Tocher. “It was the first time I felt like someone believed in me and trusted me as an editor/creative. She told me to just come up with an idea and run with it. I was proud of my finished video.” It was a defining moment that helped him see what he wanted to do for his future.
Tocher’s experience at IPA was also instrumental in getting the commencement video completed for another, less obvious, reason – his practice in getting by with minimal resources. It turned out to be a very useful skill when trying to virtually re-create a normally very social event while the whole world is under lockdown and apart.
“I think IPA is good because it is small,” shares Tocher. “Its lack of facilities can be a drawback, but it’s also what makes IPA. I’ve learned how to create amazing things with minimal supplies and reinvent objects to do what I need to get done.”
When asked why he wanted to be involved in this daunting, time-consuming undertaking, Tocher’s answer is humble and genuine.
“I remember my senior year being one of the best years of high school and I thought about how everything was going to be stripped away from the class of 2020,” he explains. “The seniors deserved to be recognized and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to give them something that was meaningful, not only to them, but also to me. I felt a sense of camaraderie with my former schoolmates who helped me discover what I wanted to do.” Tocher had found a meaningful way to give back.
The end product, a memorable virtual commencement video that was broadcast not only on IPA’s YouTube channel, but also on cable television and across numerous social media channels, was meaningful to so many.
“I realized that it was special and unique when it all started to seamlessly flow together and create a bigger story. I realized that this was a grad video unlike the other schools’,” said Tocher. “The story within the ceremony tells us who these kids are, what they love, and what their ideals are. It gives the audience an insight into their lives. It creates a connection to the students, one that isn’t easily forgettable.”
Tocher plans to transfer to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in the fall to continue his undergraduate degree. He is pursuing a major in creative media, focusing on film production, and a minor in journalism, with his ultimate goal of creating movies for Netflix.