Patrick O’Leary, Upper School photography teacher

Patrick O’Leary, Upper School photography teacher

Patrick O’Leary grew up in Hawai’i, moving between Kona, where he lived as a child and Waimea, where his grandparents lived, and later, Kailua, O’ahu, where he attended high school. After graduating from college, O’Leary moved to Taiwan as a professional musician. The original plan was to stay six months to record an album and go on tour, but he met his wife Hui-Chun and wound up making Taiwan his home for ten years. While there, he diligently studied Mandarin Chinese, pursued a master’s degree in Chinese Studies, and worked as a photojournalist and teacher. When their daughter was born in 2005, O’Leary and his family returned to Hawai‘i and began their lives at HPA, where O’Leary’s mother (Roberta Payne ’61) was a graduate. O’Leary started out teaching modern Hawaiian history; today he serves as digital photography instructor, yearbook advisor, and HPA’s principal photographer in the marketing and communications office.

How does your personal practice as a photographer influence your teaching and vice versa?
Photography keeps me grounded and focused on what happens here. As a photojournalist, I enjoy making sense of the stories emerging all around us on campus. I begin with a process of pre-visualization, and then I head out into the field to find the story. It takes time. For me, the practice of photography is a form of mindfulness, and I try to incorporate that approach into my teaching. As a teacher, I keep it simple, foundational. But as Thelonius Monk said, “Simple ain’t easy.”

If you weren’t a teacher, what would you want to be instead?
I’d probably like to be involved in the marine transportation industry. A life on the ocean—that would be amazing. The ocean was so important growing up, in terms of the time I spent fishing in Kona with my father and bodysurfing. My “what if” is: what if I’d gone to Cal Maritime and trained to become a sea captain of a ship?”

If you could trade classes with another HPA teacher for a day, who would it be and why?
Dr. Bill Wiecking, who works with our independent science research students. It would be great to really dig into research alongside your students, exploring things you’re both passionate about.

What’s the best advice you ever received from a teacher, mentor, or coach yourself?
In high school, I had an incredible music teacher, Mr. Trela. In ninth grade, I loved soccer and tennis, I loved playing the drums, and I felt torn, choosing between being a musician and an athlete. Mr. Trela convinced me to pick music because music would be with me for life. After that, I really got into the drums. What I learned from Mr. Trela is in order to be really proficient at anything, you have to devote a tremendous amount of time and focus; you have to take deep dives into what you are passionate about.