By Connie Myers
Mike Sanft grew up in Haveluloto, Tonga. His childhood home had no electricity and shared a single water faucet with three other houses. Mike had his first airplane ride at age 12, when his family left for a new life in San Diego, Calif. As he watched the green island disappear below, Mike promised himself he'd never forget his native land. Years later, after his LDS mission, Mike enrolled at BYUHawaii. He surfed before his morning classes and attended class with sand still on his feet. And he found a bridge to his native culture at the Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC). Though he was not a sponsored student, he paid his way through school while working part-time at the PCC.
Kara Urie also found a bridge to her culture at the PCC. She first visited the center with friends on a high school graduation trip. Raised in Las Vegas since age 11, Kara had always felt a strong connection to her part-Hawaiian heritage. As she watched the PCC canoe pageant, she was particularly drawn to one young man. "That's the man I want to marry," she whispered to her cousin.
That evening a cousin introduced her to the man, Mike Sanft, and they spent the next day together. One year later they married, and Kara joined Mike in Laie. She also danced at the PCC, portraying the Hawaiian heritage she'd always been drawn to.
Mike was later elected student body president of BYUHawaiitwice. He graduated in 1998 and now attends BYU's J. Reuben Clark Law School. Kara is completing her bachelor's degree in psychology at the Provo campus. They balance their school schedules around the demands of rearing their first son, Michael.
The Sanfts enjoy Utah's mountains and their studies. But every day they miss the PCC. It's in their blood, as much a part of them as their heritage. "I've joined a Hawaiian dance group here because I miss it so much," Kara says. Mike has taught other BYU students to dance for the Living Legends performing group and at the Multicultural Office's annual luau.
Mike will practice commercial law in Las Vegas after he graduates this spring. "Law school has helped me take the next step of sharing my culturenot just through song and dance now, but helping people on a legal and intellectual level, and doing it with the perspective of a Polynesian," he says. "I look forward to portraying my culture and heritage through helping others."