LIHUE — Tracy Evelyn Kuhaulua used a walking stick Friday night to help her cross the stage built by Kauai Community College carpentry students at Vidinha Stadium.
The walking stick tapped its way down the stairs and Kuhaulua raised her Academic Subject Certificate in Hawaiian Studies jubilantly in the air before composing herself.
“This is so special,” she said. “I’m 50 years old, this is the 50th anniversary of Kauai Community College graduation, and this is my first degree.”
A few candidates earlier, Tita Kuhaulua, Tracy’s daughter, stoically accepted her Academic Subject Certificate in Hawaiian Studies. In contrast to her role as a cheerleader coach, walked to her seat fully composed.
“She’s raised seven children, has 17 grandchildren, been married for 33 years, and now, she’s got a degree,” Tita Kuhaulua said. “She wanted to walk with one of her children. I’m the first.”
Tracy Kuhaulua said she plans to return to KCC to earn three more degrees in two years.
“God opened the window for me,” she said. “I was dealing with a severe medical issue. I was able to come to school with the help of the Waialeale Project which helps Native Hawaiians, and the vocational rehabilitation program. This is my first degree. Now, I’m coming back.”
The mother-daughter pair was one of nearly 175 students from KCC who received their share of nearly 400 certificates and degrees presented during the 50th annual commencement festivities. The event featured music by the KCC orchestra with Sarah Tochiki conducting.
“This is very memorable,” said Michael Tamashiro, who received his Associate of Liberal Arts degree. “I feel so accomplished and feel very grateful to have participated in this celebration.”
Tamashiro said he’s transferring to the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the fall with his eye set on a degree in psychology.
Victoria Mathis, creator of the Medical Assisting program which celebrated 11 graduates, gratefully accepted the Regents Excellence in Teaching Award presented by Kauai Regent David Iha and KCC Chancellor Helen Cox. The award comes with the coveted Regents medallion and a $1,000 cash award.
Cox also presented culinary arts graduate Kuuleinani Breen, a recipient of the American Culinary Federation-Kauai Chapter award, with the special Tadashi Kunimoto award which came with a $1,000 cash award.
“This is wonderful,” said Naomi Lewanski who graduated with a degree in accounting. “It’s been a long time since 1993 when I took an 18-year break. I came back after getting a job with Kauai Builders through a connection from the college. Now, I’m going to work for a bachelors degree through the West Oahu college.”
Tom Iannucci said his son Thomas was lucky UH-Manoa allowed Thomas to spend his last semester at KCC; he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in history, presented by Karen Wilson from UH.