Kapi‘olani Community College
Alumnus Speaker for Commencement

(Thursday, May 13, 2004 @ 6:00 p.m.)

Aloha, it is truly an honor to be able to speak to you tonight about my experience as a Kapi‘olani Community College student. I attended KCC from 1984 to 1988. Yes, it took me 4 years to complete a 2 year AA degree. Why? Like many of you, I was working over 30 hours a week while attending KCC. I was accepted at UH Manoa, but I didn’t have the money to attend college and I knew I’d have to work. In addition, because I was the first in my family to earn a college degree, I really didn’t know what college was all about. Not knowing what to expect, I decided to take it slow. KCC made a lot of sense. It was affordable, I could work at the same time, and I could pursue a Liberal Arts degree while figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. It was in those years as a KCC student that I discovered my calling to be a community college history teacher.

I discovered history was really interesting. I still recall Bob Fearrien’s history class. He was so passionate about history that it was definitely contagious. There was no falling asleep or getting bored in his class. He brought such energy to the classroom, even after 20 years of teaching history. I majored in history, and I’ve been teaching it for the last 12 years.

I discovered the Pacific islands when I enrolled in Bob Franco’s anthropology class. If you ever want to see Bob Franco get exciting about something, just ask him about Samoa. His enthusiasm is infectious. I did a double-major in history and anthropology for my BA, only because I had taken so many anthropology classes by the time I transferred to UHM. Bob Franco is the reason I focused my Master’s degree on Pacific islands history.

I discovered the teacher in me when I took Sandy Perez’s class on interpersonal communication. I thought it was uncanny how she seemed to call on me so frequently for those role playing activities in front of the whole class. I vividly recall one such role playing activity when she had me play a teacher whose student was asking to make up some work at the end of the semester. I had a strange feeling after that role playing exercise. It was almost as if I could see myself in that role.

My years at KCC was a time of exploration and discovery that has impacted me for a lifetime. KCC introduced me to subjects that I still find fascinating and to a rewarding career as a teacher, but KCC is more than that to me.

When I think of KCC I remember the construction boom. When I was a student here in the late 1980s it seemed to me that a new building was opening nearly ever semester. I watched the campus transform from a collection of termite eaten buildings, left-over from the old Fort Ruger, to the gorgeous campus we have today.

When I think of KCC I remember hanging-out at the lunch wagon under the tree because there was no Ohia cafeteria yet. My friends from class were typically older than I, several with families, some were returning to school after their kids were grown. One of the great characteristics of a community college is the diversity of the student population. This made for a very enriching experience for me. One of my fondest memories was to share my KCC experience with my mother. I remember proof-reading her papers, and we even had a class together -- Nelda Quensell’s botany class. Mom and I made the best study team, since mom always did the readings, and I took very good notes. We complemented each other quite well, and mom used to brag about the fact that everybody in class thought we were sisters.

When I first started teaching at KCC in 1992, I must admit that it did feel a little awkward to be working alongside so many of my former teachers. I admired them so much that I had a hard time seeing myself as their colleague. I had absolutely no teaching experience when I started. Everything I’ve learned about being a teacher, I’ve learned from my colleagues here at KCC. Thus, it was a humbling experience to receive a teaching award two years ago. If I am an excellent teacher, then it is because I had excellent KCC teachers to emulate.

When I left KCC to further my studies at UH Manoa, I felt insecure about my abilities. I wasn’t sure if I had it in me to make it at UH. KCC had provided a nurturing community that allowed me to blossom and find myself. At my graduation in 1988 I wondered if I could be successful at a large research institution. Now, looking back at my years at Manoa, I can tell you with certainty that KCC prepared me well for that experience.

Do not underestimate the value of your KCC education. Did you know that KCC has the highest success rate in the UHCC system, and that KCC students who transfer to UH Manoa consistently achieve high grade point averages? Did you know that KCC is nationally recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for our service learning program, by the American Council of Education for our international education program, and by the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) for being an “innovative, learning-centered” institution? In 2001, the AAC&U conducted a rigorous national search, and we were selected as one of only 16 colleges in the nation to serve as a model of “best practice in liberal education.” All this recognition doesn’t surprise me because I’ve been both a student and a teacher here for some time now. What surprises me is that many people in our own local community don’t know how much national recognition we’ve received. Why is it that sometimes we don’t see the value of what is so familiar to us?

I do not believe that our successes are accidental. I believe that we, as a college, have been driven toward excellence because of our name. We are the only college in the UH system that’s named after a person, not a place. Queen Julia Kapi‘olani was the wife of King David Kalakaua. The Hawaiians believe there is power, or mana, in a name. Thus, whenever you speak the name Kapi‘olani you are drawing on her mana. Our beloved queen had a motto: Kulia i ka nu‘u, which means “Strive for the Highest.” I believe that Queen Kapi‘olani has been guiding our college toward excellence. Take pride in the fact that our campus is named after Hawaiian royalty, but realize that with that comes added responsibility to do your very best. I have no doubt that KCC has prepared you well for the journey that lies ahead. Go forth and make Kapi’olani proud. Kulia i ka nu’u. Mahalo nui loa.