moorman family with sunrise background
Elizabeth (center) with brother, Richard, and mom, Amy.

For Elizabeth Moorman, graduating from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa in May 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in biology is another step toward a hopeful future for her family, which tragically lost its patriarch four years ago. Making it even more special is that Moorman, of Thousand Oaks, California, took that step with her mother and brother, who are also earning their college degrees in spring 2021 from Moorpark College in California.

father and daughter at fire station
Elizabeth and her dad

Elizabeth is the daughter of fallen firefighter David Todd Moorman, a captain who devoted 28 years with the Los Angeles City Fire Department. She is the first on her father’s side of the family to attend and graduate from a four-year university, making her accomplishment even more meaningful.

“Even though my dad is not here, I know he’s proud of me, my mom and my brother. It was his dream for us to graduate from college and we did it together. He’s our guardian angel and guided us every step of the way,” she said.

Moorman moved to Oʻahu to attend UH Mānoa just six months after her father’s passing. “Being away from my family and friends and living on the pretty isolated North Shore didn’t really help, but the driving motivation for me was that my dad knew I got into UH right before he passed, so I really wanted to do it for him.”

She found her new island life nurturing for the soul, adding “I love nature, especially the beaches and mountains, and that’s one of the main reasons I chose UH. There is something so powerful about moving far away from where you grew up and your family and being able to just survive on your own and make a new home for yourself.”

A future veterinarian

Moorman’s goal is to be a veterinarian. A love for animals and her experience caring for fostered puppies and volunteering for animal shelters sparked Moorman to pursue a career in veterinary medicine. She chose biology instead of animal science to give her the option of applying to medical school one day.

Thanks to her mother, Moorman and her brother were able to receive several scholarships that help children of fallen firefighters to pursue a college education. “My mom fought like a champion in multiple court cases for what was right for my dad, who was only declared Line of Duty Death three years after he died,” she explained.

moorman in graduation gown

Described as “passionate, caring, bright, happy, engaging and a studious young lady” by her mother, Moorman takes her education very seriously. In her last year of studies, Moorman said the COVID-19 pandemic initially hampered her spirits just as she started to feel a sense of normalcy again. “But I didn’t let the pandemic get me too down and was able to take 19 credits this last semester. It was also a magical time to enjoy the island without any tourists.”

The newly minted UH Mānoa graduate hopes to stay in Hawaiʻi as long as she can, but knows there are no veterinary schools in the state. Moorman has her eyes set on Western University where she can be close to family again. “The ultimate goal is to one day be a veterinarian here, but also have a house back in California so I can be with my family too,” she said.

In June, Moorman will take part in a two-week veterinary trip to Guatemala with Volunteers for Intercultural and Definitive Adventures. She also currently volunteers with Helping Hands Hawaiʻi, Our Kūpuna, and will soon begin volunteering at an equine veterinary clinic, as well as an internship with a USDA wildlife biologist.

Inspiring perseverance

Moorman credits the women in her life for inspiring her to become an independent, self-motivated individual. “My mom’s entire life and future was turned upside down when my dad passed, but she has risen above and become the strongest person I know. I couldn’t imagine having to start over but she is doing it so gracefully.” She added, “My grandmother has been a stronghold for our family too, despite losing her son (my dad) and recently my grandfather to Parkinson’s, she remains positive and is the happiest person I know.”

moorman in grad gown and lei with grandma and mom
At UH Mānoaʻs Hybrid Commencement Celebration with her mom and grandmother.

Their strength and positivity have obviously rubbed off on Moorman who shared her own words of wisdom: “Something I have also learned is that there are a million and one reasons to be sad, but to be happy and focus on what is good is a choice. We are all super lucky to be alive on this planet so I choose to look at the bright side of things rather than focus on the negative or what I can’t change.”

Hawaiʻi “homecoming”

Moorman’s mother, grandmothers and aunties flew to Hawaiʻi to celebrate, marking somewhat of a “homecoming” for the Moorman family. Elizabeth’s great cousin, Scott Moorman, was aboard the Sarah Joe, a motorboat, which mysteriously had gone missing when it left the coast of Hana, Maui 42 years ago. The five men on board never returned, but remains of Moorman’s great cousin were found on an isolated atoll in the Marshallese islands 10 years after. Additionally, Elizabeth’s great grandfather on her mother’s side was a Pearl Harbor survivor who served as a lieutenant colonel at Hickam AFB.

“My family has a special connection to Hawaiʻi on both my mom and dad’s side. And now I have my own story as well,” Moorman said.

— By Arlene Abiang