It happens once every four years on the island of Molokaʻi—a graduation ceremony for the students of the Molokaʻi Education Center, which is part of the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College. Fifty-five of the 194 students who have graduated since 2008 took part in the commencement exercise on Saturday, May 12, 2012.

About 300 family, friends and faculty watched as the graduates received everything from their associate degrees in liberal arts and early education to certificates in Hawaiian studies and sustainable construction technology. The students took most of their classes via interactive TV and the internet, while raising their families and working full time jobs.

“For many of us, that’s impossible for us to leave our families and go off island to get an education so this is wonderful that we have this here,” said graduate Edline Albino, who has seven kids and four grandchildren.

Albino earned two associate degrees and finished with a 4.0 grade-point-average. “That just means a lot and I figure you know for my kids later on. Mom did it and you can too.”

The 194 graduates are parents to 244 children and 48 grandchildren. The youngest graduate is 18 years old and the oldest is 64. Seventy-five percent of them are part Hawaiian, the highest of any campus in the University of Hawaiʻi system. The Molokaʻi campus was a lifesaver for Brent Nakihei, who quit using crystal meth nine years ago.

“My first year, I was in Halawa Correctional Facility,” said Nakihei who graduated with a 3.9 grade-point-average and associate degrees in liberal arts and human services. “My second year I was in treatment. My third year I came to school in 2006 and I am still continuing my education because it keeps me sober.”

“We’re very fortunate and blessed to have an educational learning center here. It’s great for the youth and also for the parents. The youth get to see their parents in school and it shows them it’s important, especially for me.”

After the traditional handing out of the diplomas and turning of tassels, the ceremony came to close with the release of 50 rainbow colored pigeons. It was a perfect symbol of how the Molokaʻi Education Center has given so many Molokaʻi residents the opportunity to spread their wings and fly.

Molokaʻi Education Center

University of Hawaiʻi Maui College first offered off-campus instruction on Molokaʻi in 1970. The Molokaʻi Education Center was opened in 1999 and currently employs two part-time and six full-time staff including three full-time professors.