With University of Hawaiʻi commencement ceremonies in full swing, Kuʻumeaaloha Gomes, director of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s Kuaʻana Student Services, shares the story of Kekai and Jason Smith—two class of 2015 graduates whose hard work and determination in getting their master’s degrees in social work and engineering from the UH Mānoa will finally come to fruition as they graduate this Saturday, May 16.
Kekai and Jason’s story
I first met Jason and Kekai when they were undergrads. At that time they had one child and commuted to school with their baby, from Lāʻie. Then their second child was born, and now with two babies in tow, Jason and Kekai continued taking turns watching them while on campus and sometimes taking them to classes. They continued to attend classes, still making that early, early, drive from Lāʻie, often arriving early enough so they could get parking close to school and sleeping with the babies in the car, often taking time to review for classes in the beam of a flashlight.
They persisted into grad school, and in the meantime had their third child, who initially had medical complications. Through prayers, raw determination and the support of their loving families, the Smiths remained in school and again with their babies in tow took turns going to classes, making those much needed doctors appointments for their third child and continuing to reach for the educational goals they had set for themselves. Not once did they ever ask for special consideration or treatment.
This graduation picture brings tears to my eyes and joy in my heart, because I know of the challenges they encountered and the hurdles they overcame to get to this joyful Graduation Day. Jason and Kekai are truly amazing young people and their Maori and Kanaka Maoli ancestors must be very proud of them.
Every once in a while in our careers in Student Services we meet students who show resilience that is hard to describe. For me this year the Smiths are it. Me ke aloha nui to both of them as they leave UH Mānoa, and best wishes to them for a dynamic future in their respective fields.