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Hanae Aoiki: A Calm Distaste by

Katie Kouvelas

Two coffee shops later, I made it to my third and true destination: Philz Coffee in Palo Alto (the Middlefield Road location, not the Forest Avenue). Hanae Aoki was sitting promptly at an outside table at the hole-in-the-wall coffee enthusiast haven. Surrounded by dozens of other customers, Hanae appeared unfazed by the havoc surrounding her. Eating a breakfast burrito (might I add, at 4 pm) with one hand, and controlling the mouse pad of her MacBook Pro with the other, she appeared to be nothing short of casual. Wearing faded red lipstick, a short navy blue baby doll dress and bulky sandals that I later learned she borrowed from her grandmother, she smiled timidly as I approached her and apologized for my horrible sense of direction. We laughed off the misunderstanding and promptly she began to let me inside the scope of her world. At only twenty-one, Hanae Aoki spends her life striving to achieve a level of passion everyday. As a Freestyle Academy graduate, a student at San Francisco State University, and the Design Intern at the up-and-coming Palo Alto International Film Festival, Hanae has chosen a creative path to help lead her to success. Through her struggle and distaste for the one-dimensional education system, Hanae’s artistic path displays a successful alternative to the motions of the current tedious public schooling system. As a young adult she has proven that although not all work is glamorous, attaining revere is an uphill battle that is worth pursuing. As a junior at Los Altos High School, Hanae knew the typical school system was draining her of her opportunity to be unique. “I went through a phase where I really wanted to be a scientist. I got a microscope and a lab coat for Christmas, and I was like ‘I’m a scientist, this is my life.’” Fortunately the desire to be a scientist was only a fad, and she outgrew the occupation as she outgrew her lab coat. As a junior in high school, she was enrolled in all of her expected classes, but her friend Kyle persistently nagged at her to join Freestyle Academy, a technology and communication arts school that had just begun its third year. After meeting with the school’s enthusiastic English teacher, Mr. Jack, Hanae was sold and adjusted her schedule in such a way that cleared her fifth through seventh period classes and made room for three new additions: Film, Design and English. As a junior at Los Altos High School, Hanae knew the typical school system was draining her of her opportunity to be unique. “I went through a phase where I really wanted to be a scientist. I got a microscope and a lab coat for Christ


mas, and I was like ‘I’m a scientist, this is my life.’” Fortunately the desire to be a scientist was only a fad, and she outgrew the occupation as she outgrew her lab coat. As a junior in high school, she was enrolled in all of her expected classes, but her friend Kyle persistently nagged at her to join Freestyle Academy, a technology and communication arts school that had just begun its third year. After meeting with the school’s enthusiastic English teacher, Mr. Jack, Hanae was sold and adjusted her schedule in such a way that cleared her fifth through seventh period classes and made room for three new additions: Film, Design and English. “I had no art plans at all,” said Hanae when I asked if it was something she was always interested in. “Actually, I wanted to do Web-Audio at Freestyle but there was no opening, so I had to do Film. “ Luckily, Film proved to be everything but dull and Hanae immediately found herself filming an entire narrative film from the inside and outside of a moving car. “My friend drove over my foot,” she explained as her face lit up and the memory became clear. “For some reason I was like ‘Stop!’ and he stopped right on my foot and drove over it. Yeah, I forgot about that. It was fine though.” She shyly laughs at herself, shaking her head at the distant memory. A confident calmness surrounds her as her eyes slowly explore the coffee shop patio. This is what she enjoys, serenity within chaos. She also spent her documentary unit following a San Francisco phenomenon known as the “Skate ‘N Crew”- a group of eclectic San Fran natives who spend their Sundays blasting music and roller-skating through Golden Gate Park. “’D-Miles’, the man who ran everything, was a big black guy who was really into Burning Man. He pushed around a boom box in a baby stroller and led the group,” explained Hanae. “They were the weirdest people and there were so many of them. They all knew the “Thriller” dance on roller-skates and lined up and did it for us. Some of them were college students; some of them were really old. It was probably my favorite unit though. I had never witnessed so many bizarre people.” Through her eight projects at Freestyle Academy, Hanae discovered that more than anything she wanted to pursue creativity in her life. She learned that no matter what she was going to do, she needed the ability to express her opinion and use her artistic gifts as a way to help her achieve success. After Freestyle Academy, Hanae found the college application process overwhelmingly demanding and nearly ridiculous. Her father made it clear that going to an art school was not an option at the time, and she found herself enrolled at San Francisco State while all of her friends fled across the country to various design and art schools. As an undeclared first year student, Hanae used her freshman year to knock out a handful of her required

Hanae enjoying a laugh at Philz Coffee, Palo Alto

GE classes, which proved to be irrelevant and altogether ineffective. “I took ‘oceanography’ which is really cool, but personally I don’t care. If I wanted to be an oceanographer I would watch the Discovery Channel,” she told me as she shook her head. “I think it’s stupid, it’s a waste of thousands of my parent’s money.” Her strong opinion of the school system showed through her body language as she adjusted herself in her seat and subtly rolled her eyes down to her now half-eaten breakfast burrito. The look consisted of both anger and disgust: anger toward the classes she was required to take and disgust toward the amount of money thrown out the window with each one. Luckily, there were minor perks to the general education requirements at San Francisco State and Hanae enjoyed her art philosophy class more than most, able to reassure to herself that art was something that was going to stick with her. The summer going into her sophomore year of college, Hanae spent a month studying abroad in Greece, taking an intensive everyday course on figure drawing. “I totally loved it,” she told me as her enthusiasm sparked. “It was awesome. We did huge portraits that were bigger than I am and were bigger than the models. There were six of us in the class and we would get on ladders and draw for hours.” At this point, Hanae had lit up in her seat and her fanaticism took control of her smile. Her instructor Effie was a graduate of New York City’s Pratt University, one of the nation’s


most prestigious design and art schools in America. “She was a very well respected artist and it was really incredible learning from her.” A glint of passion ignited inside her and was visible through her eased demeanor. After her month abroad, Hanae made her way to New York City, visiting her friends and exploring the option of transferring to Pratt University. Although she still found her friends down to earth, she found the majority of the people to be “shitty hipsters,” and she realized while New York was a fun place to stay, it was not the ideal place to live and study. When returning from her extended trip, she decided to enroll in a semester at Foothill College and began to explore the broader range of classes that were offered. Taking both a communication class as well as a computer science class, Hanae realized that in order to be successful she didn’t want to be an artist, but rather work in a certain field that would allow her to be inventive. She explained, “I obviously love art, but I don’t want to be an artist. I don’t necessarily want to do film, but I want to be creative.” After her helpful semester at Foothill, she returned to San Francisco State where she found herself stuck in the same dull classes until she discovered the possibility of a year long exchange program in Milan, Italy. The program would allow her to achieve her aspirations through the pursuit of creativity as well as foster her underlying passion for wanderlust and exploration. As a backup plan to her dream program, she is applying to San Jose State in case she does not get into the selective program. As the Design Intern at the Palo Alto International Film Festival, Hanae has found the work both demanding and rewarding. Unfortunately an unpaid internship, her summer hours spent at the Palo Alto start up have been extremely beneficial to her real life experience as an inventive woman in the workforce. She works directly with the art director Caitlyn and organizes ads, emails, and magazine spreads promoting the festival and films. Luckily, Caitlyn is an enthusiastic boss who helps better Hanae’s abilities by giving her projects and lessons. Caitlyn also demands that she writes everything down in her moleskine notebook. The internship has been a learning experience for Hanae and a stepping-stone for her future and her goals. Currently, Hanae is on level two of four of Italian to help her reach her goal of studying at The New School of Art in Milan, Italy. The debut of the Palo Alto International Film Festival is taking place September 28-30th, but her internship will end and Hanae will return to her studies where she will proudly declare a web-design related major as she waits for the opportunity to study abroad. The prospect of studying at the New School of Art in Milan, Italy is the inspiration that motivates Hanae to push through her education. “Hopefully I get in, it’ll make it all worth it,” she says as she smiles in her seat. “Make my years going to SF State worth it.” A warmth begins to surround her as a smile cracks from the corner of her mouth and she looks down at the meager remainder of her burrito. She steadily scopes out the cafés’ patio one last time in her seat as we sit in the comforting hushed chaos. She lightly shrugs her shoulders, laughs gently and coolly tucks a piece of hair behind her ear. A simple moment goes by and we sit and enjoy the air.



Profile-Katie-Kouvelas