Doris: Lifelong Learner

“Great students are not only remembered for their knowledge but also in the important skills of living a fulfilling life.”   – Instructor Nami Aoyagi

For years, HBAS has honored a special group of students as Lifelong Learners who “persist, succeed and inspire others.”  We can’t think of a student who embodies this description more than Doris Whang.  Since 1998, Doris has taken almost 150 classes at HBAS. 

As HBAS recognizes exceptional learners in the years to come, we are proud to officially rename the award the “Doris Whang Student of the Year Award.”  This is one of many ways Doris will continue to inspire and motivate our community of learners.

On November 3, 2021, Principal Curiel and Assistant Principal Jason Ross visited Nami Aoyagi’s class to surprise Doris with this honor.  Jason shared, “It was so great to be able recognize Doris by naming our Lifelong Learner Award after her. Being able to do it in front of her peers who she has taken classes with for years makes it even more special.”

The Drive to Learn

Doris has been a lifelong learner for, well, her whole life! Years before retiring and long before first gracing our campuses, Doris sought opportunities to learn at every turn.  For Doris, the drive to learn seems ingrained in her bones.  She shared that her parents came from China and had to struggle to make a living.  “They pushed education, big time.” 

After graduating college in 1972, Doris worked as an engineer at Rockwell/Boeing in the Los Angeles area.  She was an actual rocket scientist!  Even while busy working on the space shuttle, Doris deciced, “I should take some fun classes.”  And boy, did she.  Doris dabbled in woodworking, pastry making, fencing, and even learned to ride a bike at 30 years old. 

Doris moved to Huntington Beach 32 years ago with her husband and attended her first class at HBAS in 1998. Her time at our school really took off in 2007 after her 2005 retirement.  Doris was planning her father’s funeral services and “had a picture of my father with a red tie on, and that’s not good for funeral pictures.” Her young nephew was able to change the color of the tie, and even added a family member into a group photo.  Doris immediately thought, “How did he do that? I want to learn how to do that!” 

This led Doris to look for a Photoshop class, which then brought her to Nami Aoyagi’s Digital Media Arts classes. Over the years, she’s taken nearly every class Nami has taught, becoming close friends with a core group of Nami’s students.  Some people might wonder why students would take the same classes over again.  But with an “exceptional, dynamic teacher” like Nami, and programs that release new versions each year, “you learn something new every time.”  Doris added, “Technology changes, so you have to keep going or you’ll be left behind.”

Passing it On

Instructor Nami Aoyagi described Doris as “one of the most amazing people I have ever met. Her drive, her quiet demeanor, her self-confidence and her need to always learn is inspiring.”  Nami was especially moved when she attended a birthday celebration for Doris.  “People kept coming up to me and saying, ‘So you are the teacher who taught Doris. We cannot tell you how thankful we are that she took your classes so that she could bring so many special creative memories to our lives.’ As her teacher, I was both honored and humbled to see how she took what she learned in my class and created masterpieces for her friends and family.”

Doris’s passion for learning is matched only by her passion for helping others.  Nami explained that Doris “comprehends instructions so quickly that she has time to help the students around her.  Her fellow students choose seats close to Doris, so that she can help them.” 

A Legacy of Learning

When being interviewed for this story, Doris wondered if hers was the “kind of story we were looking for.” She felt different from our typical “success stories” of career and diploma program graduates.  But isn’t that the beauty of the Adult School?  There isn’t just one type of student or one pathway to learning.  Our students have a variety of backgrounds, challenges, motivations and goals.  That’s why we love to celebrate all types of learners!

After being surprised with award, Doris shared, "I think of my late father and I believe he would be so proud of my award. Thank you again for your support and giving me the highest honor in my life." 

Reflecting on the importance of lifelong learning, Doris simply said, “you have to keep learning to keep moving, otherwise you don’t grow.”  Here at HBAS, we are simply grateful that Doris continues to share her journey of lifelong learning with us.