LIHUE — Fifteen years ago, waves shook the foundation of Kanakaikahaku Kuhaulua’s reef island.
“My son was born,” said Kuhaulua, a candidate for her bachelor’s degree in social sciences through the University of Hawaii, West Oahu College.
“I raised my son, a daughter, and another son before I started taking a course or two. I needed to stand upright, and as I graduate tonight, my son Hanohano just completed his first college course as a sophomore in high school.”
Kuhaulua was one of three student speakers at the 54th annual Commencement celebrated by Kauai Community College at Vidinha Stadium.
Kuhaulua also was one of the more than 120 KCC students celebrating successful courses of study, including seven students who were able to enjoy graduation ahead of their respective high school celebrations.
“These are students in Early College who earned academic subject certificates in mathematics,” said Margaret Sanchez, KCC vice chancellor of student affairs. “The students who walk during Friday night’s commencement represent the 340 unduplicated students who successfully earned awards during the summer, fall, winter and spring semesters. This is an increase from 291 students in the 2017-2018 year.”
The seven high school students, including Samantha Bostick of Waimea High School, represent 38 students for this year.
“It’s different than high school graduation because there are a lot of different types of people,” Bostick said.
Chancellor Helen Cox, scheduled to retire in December, delivered the keynote address just as she did 11 years ago when she arrived at the Puhi campus.
The theme of this year’s commencement is the olelo no‘eau collected by Mary Pukui: “He puko‘a kani ‘aina,” or “a coral reef that grows into an island,” meaning a person beginning in a small way gains steadily until he becomes firmly established.
“What does this have to do with you?” Cox asked. “How do you, how do I, how do any of us, through the building blocks of our lives — our coral polyps, create an island?”
Outlining her background, Cox said, “Who in your life stood with you? Who stands with you now? Take a moment to reflect, and thank them. You are taking with you pieces of our lives — your families, your instructors, your friends. We express gratitude for those who have come before, who are with us, who provide a kahua, a foundation. Like the coral polyps that form a community and have a symbiotic relationship with algae, you also build on, and with the love and work of others, to form the reef.”
Jaycie Kobayashi-Apilado graduated with her nurse, Klaves Villaver, by her side.
“It’s been hard,” the wheelchair-bound student said. “I took three years, but this kept me grounded. Now, I’m looking at perhaps studying criminial justice at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.”
Villaver, who was jokingly told she should be getting a degree, has been by Kobayashi-Apilado’s side during her KCC journey.
“It’s been hard,” she agreed with Kobayashi-Apilado. “But when she gets down, I just tell her to keep plugging away.”
Cox congratulated everyone, including Candace Tabuchi, who received the Excellence in Teaching Award.
“We need you,” Cox said. “We all need each other.”
Dennis Fujimoto, staff writer and photographer, can be reached at 245-0453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.