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(Top row) from L-R: Rockne Freitas, James Hirai and Kitty Lagareta. (Bottom row) from L-R: Harold Nishimura, Samuel Slom and K. Mark Takai.

The University of Hawaiʻi Alumni Association (UHAA) 2017 Distinguished Alumni Awards is honoring former UH West Oʻahu Chancellor Rockne Freitas, U.S. Army Brigadier General (Retired) James Hirai, Communications Pacific, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Kitty Lagareta and retired Hawaiʻi Community College carpentry Professor Harold Nishimura.

This year, UHAA will also honor former State Senator Samuel Slom with the UH Founders Alumni Association Lifetime Achievement Award, and former U.S. Representative K. Mark Takai with the UHAA President’s Award.

This year’s honorees will be recognized on May 18, at a dinner at the Sheraton Waikīkī Hotel.

2017 distinguished alumni

Rockne Freitas
Freitas most recently served as chancellor of UH West Oʻahu, rounding out a nearly 23-year career in key leadership roles with the university. Freitas was previously the vice president for student affairs and university/community relations for the UH System. Freitas worked on key special projects systemwide, including the completion of Hawaiʻi Community College—Palamanui and assisting with the progress of the new West Oʻahu campus. Freitas also served as chancellor of Hawaiʻi Community College for six years, where he was the chief executive of the main campus in Hilo and its UH Center in West Hawaiʻi.

Read more about Freitas.

James Hirai
Hirai served in the U.S. Army in a range of leadership positions for 31 years. As the special assistant to the Commander, Combined Forces Command—Afghanistan, he worked in the Office of Security Cooperation—Afghanistan leading the external support to the Afghan Ministry of Defense and National Army. His experience in the Asia-Pacific region includes serving as commander of U.S. Army Alaska; chief of staff U.S. Army Pacific; commander of the U. S. Army Garrison, Hawaiʻi; commander of the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry, 25th Infantry Division (Light); and two tours on the Commander U.S. Pacific Command staff. He also served as Deputy Commandant, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and six years with Army Rangers.

Read more about Hirai.

Kitty Lagareta
Lagareta chief executive officer of Communications Pacific, is recognized as a leading public relations professional, having provided strategic counsel on some of Hawaiʻi’s toughest issues over the past 30 years. As a member of the global leadership team for IPREX, a partnership of independent communications firms, she has worked with public relations professionals from around the world to develop the profession and build business together. Lagareta served on the UH Board of Regents for six years, including two as vice chair and two as chair. During her leadership, the board voted to move forward with the development of the West Oʻahu campus and the UH Hilo College of Pharmacy among other noteworthy decisions. Before joining Communications Pacific, Lagareta was a founding board member and the first executive director of Hawaiʻi’s Ronald McDonald House.

Read more about Lagareta.

Harold Nishimura
Nishimura, a retired Hawaiʻi CC carpentry professor, has been a driving force behind the college’s growth and development over his 24-year career. A skilled carpenter, Nishimura was a key proponent behind the establishment of one of Hawaiʻi CC’s most well-known and enduring efforts—the Model Home Project. Once a Hawaiʻi CC carpentry student himself, he established partnerships with local businesses and government agencies that are crucial to the project’s success. In addition, Nishimura was instrumental in improving Hawaiʻi CC’s Staff Development Committee that remains in existence today, offering professional and personal development opportunities to faculty and staff. He served as co-chair for Hawaiʻi CC’s 50th Anniversary.

Read more about Nishimura.

UH Founders Alumni Association Lifetime Achievement Award

Samuel Slom served as a member of the Hawaiʻi State Senate representing District 9 from 1996 to 2016. He served as both Senate minority floor leader and minority leader over the course of his career. Outside of his legislative career, Slom worked as both a private consulting economist and president/owner of Hawaiʻi, economist for Bank of Hawaiʻi and as assistant director of the Tax Foundation of Hawaiʻi.

Read more about Slom.

UHAA President’s Award

The late K. Mark Takai served as representative for Hawaiʻi’s 1st Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives from 2014 until his passing in July of 2016. Takai distinguished himself as a capable and unique legislator and was a steadfast advocate for the people of Hawaiʻi and a champion for education, veterans, active duty service members, service connected families and Hawaiʻi’s kūpuna. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Takai served as the ranking member for the House Small Business Committee’s Subcommittee on Contracting and the Workforce and also served as a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Read more about Takai.

For more information about the Distinguished Alumni Awards dinner or UHAA, contact the Alumni Relations office at (808) 956-2586, toll-free 1-877-842-5867 or

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