Commencement ceremonies for the University of Hawaiʻi Maui College are not all annual events.
“Every four years, our outreach sites on Molokaʻi and Lanaʻi do graduations,” said University of Hawaiʻi Maui College Chancellor Lui Hokoana. “We also have outreach sites in Hāna and also in Lahaina. So it really celebrates the accomplishments of all our graduates from Maui College this year. We have a total of about 700.”
Between 2012 and 2016, the UH Maui Molokaʻi Education Center awarded 87 associate degrees, 17 bachelors degrees and 12 masters degrees. Forty-one of the graduates participated in the 2016 commencement ceremony, including Ekolu Ah Yee. The Molokaʻi native earned associate degrees in Hawaiian studies and liberal arts, worked at the center as a tutor, and delivered one of the student addresses at commencement.
“College has opened so many new doors for me,” said Ah Yee. “It has made me comfortable enough to stand before each and everyone of you today, and give a speech. Five years ago, you wouldn’t catch me dead up here. No ways.”
The 2016 UH graduates were mostly non-traditional students, meaning they did not go to college right after high school. Seventy-five percent are Native Hawaiian, they are parents to 38 kids and range in age from 17 to 59.
Shyla Kamakaleihiwa Purdy-Avelino is the youngest graduate ever from the Molokaʻi Education Center, earning associate degrees in Hawaiian studies and liberal arts.
Purdy-Avelino shares, “This is a really important moment for me and my, especially my mom, since she help for this whole journey. It was kind of an experiment, we didn’t know what we were doing but we did it and I’m humbly proud.”
As part of UH Maui College, the center offers a wide range of credit and non-credit courses and certificate and associate degree programs. Like other UH outreach sites, it provides selected courses from other UH community colleges and receives selected bachelors and masters degree programs from UH Mānoa, UH Hilo and UH West Oʻahu via UH-ITV.
“It’s an example of how the entire UH System works together, to serve students throughout the state, including via technology and all of the distant learning programs that we are able to offer,” said University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner.
Most of the graduates say they are just getting started.
“Next semester, I’ll be attending UH Hilo, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Hawaiian studies, minoring in marine science,” said Purdy-Avelino.
Lassner said, “Two thirds of the students who got degrees here today plan to continue on in higher education, creating a great future for themselves. This is why we are here.”
“Consider this. Ask not what Molokaʻi can do for you but what you can do for Molokaʻi,” said Ah Yee.
Look back on Molokaʻi Education Center’s 2012 ceremony
UH News video: Molokaʻi celebrates graduates, May 16, 2012