Though Obama Had to Leave to Find Himself, It Is Hawaii That Made His Rise Possible

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On weekday mornings as a teenager, Barry Obama left his grandparents' apartment on the 10th floor of the 12-story high-rise at 1617 South Beretania, a mile and half above Waikiki Beach, and walked up Punahou Street in the shadows of capacious banyan trees and date palms. Before crossing the overpass above the H1 freeway, where traffic zoomed east to body-surfing beaches or west to the airport and Pearl Harbor, he passed Kapiolani Medical Center, walking below the hospital room where he was born on Aug. 4, 1961. Two blocks further along, at the intersection with Wilder, he could look left toward the small apartment on Poki where he had spent a few years with his little sister, Maya, and his mother, Ann, back when she was getting her master's degree at the University of Hawaii before she left again for Indonesia. Soon enough he was at the lower edge of Punahou School, the gracefully sloping private campus where he studied some and played basketball more.

An adolescent life told in five Honolulu blocks, confined and compact, but far, far away. Apart from other unprecedented aspects of his rise, it is a geographical truth that no politician in American history has traveled farther than Barack Obama to be within reach of the White House. He was born and spent most of his formative years on Oahu, in distance the most removed population center on the planet, some 2,390 miles from California, farther from a major landmass than anywhere but Easter Island. In the westward impulse of American settlement, his birthplace was the last frontier, an outpost with its own time zone, the 50th of the United States, admitted to the union only two years before Obama came along.
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