Amalie ʻAlohilani Monlux described her experience to earn her PhD at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa as a “steep and slow ascent to the top of a mountain” that almost made her turn back several times during her arduous five-year journey. However, her tenacity, a supportive network and a fateful phone call from a concerned program chair, encouraged the mother of four to achieve her goal. Next week, she will celebrate with nearly 2,000 fellow graduates when she earns her PhD in public health.
Monlux was selected as the UH Mānoa fall 2020 commencement speaker, and is the first PhD candidate to be chosen for that role.
Related UH News story: Fall 2020 UH commencement schedule, December 8, 2020
Born and raised on Oʻahu, Monlux is a Kamehameha Schools graduate and previously earned her master’s in public health from UH Mānoa and a bachelor’s in exercise science from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.
Growing up as a Native Hawaiian and mindful of health disparities the community faces with chronic issues at a younger age and at a higher rate than other racial groups, Monlux had a passion for health and wellness and pursued her PhD in public health to “become part of the solution.” She said, “Because I’m a mom, I’m especially invested in the health of Native Hawaiian children.”
Monlux began her PhD studies in fall 2015, but after successfully completing three semesters, she felt too overwhelmed to continue and took a leave of absence in the spring 2017 semester. “The feeling of disappointment was heavy. I really thought I could do it, but that day I gave up,” she said.
Monlux described the next few months as blissful, not having to worry about papers, tuition or deadlines. When the fall 2017 semester approached, she felt recharged to continue her studies. She completed the semester but felt overwhelmed again when spring 2018 rolled around.
“I decided to quietly disappear by not enrolling for any classes, which would cause me to get dropped from the program,” she said. “I was more than embarrassed that after using a leave of absence I still couldn’t handle the pressure.”
It was the last day to enroll in classes when Monlux received a call from Office of Public Health Studies Graduate Chair and Professor Kathryn Braun. Braun was concerned that she had not registered at all. Monlux explained her situation, and Braun suggested enrolling in a one-credit course to keep her good standing in the program.
“This was my saving grace. I saw that even minimal forward progress was progress,” Monlux said.
“I gave myself a pep talk and made the commitment to see it through. I had to do some major soul searching and really questioned why I was pursuing my PhD. My passion in Native Hawaiian health and wellness was what fueled me throughout, to one day being able to make a positive impact in my community.”
A grateful graduate
Monlux stressed the importance of support, asking for help, and giving thanks to those who helped her and expected nothing in return. She said her PhD journey would not be possible if not for her supportive network of professors and her family. She credits her professors, like Braun, for “caring about my education and goals, and at times holding my hand so I could persevere.” Her husband, siblings and parents also played a big role to provide care for her children so she could focus on her studies.
“I auditioned to become a student speaker because it has been a labor of love by so many people for me to earn my degree, and I wanted to acknowledge them for believing in me and cheering me on during these last five years,” she said. “It’s so important, especially for a college student, and especially for a mom, to have a support system.”
Monlux said she celebrates with her fellow graduates who have overcome their own obstacles, especially in a year where they faced a “tumultuous election and a global pandemic,” to make that climb to the top of the mountain.
UH Mānoa will post recorded speeches from Monlux and PBS Hawaiʻi CEO and President Leslie Wilcox, Mahalo Messages from graduates, and a PDF of the commencement program on Monday, December 21. Visit the UH Mānoa commencement website for more information.
—By Arlene Abiang