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U H West Oahu student speakers
Spring 2022 commencement student speakers, from left, Aiga Ale, Jesse Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku and Michelle Zheng.

Share your stories with others. Make a difference in this world. Continue to persevere throughout life.

These are some of the uplifting messages three students—Aiga Ale, Jesse Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku and Michelle Zheng—hope to convey to their fellow graduates and all those in attendance at University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu’s Spring 2022 Commencement.

More highlights from the commencement ceremonies and our amazing graduates

The three are among more than 400 students who are candidates for graduation, the highest number to date for UH West Oʻahu, which will be holding two in-person ceremonies on May 7. Ale will speak during the morning ceremony, and Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku and Zheng will speak during the afternoon ceremony.

“Everything I do is for my family, so it’s not just a big day for me,” Ale said. “This accomplishment is dedicated to my family, especially my mom, who’s sacrificed so much to build a solid foundation for me to succeed.”

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Aiga Ale

Aiga Ale

Age: 23
From: ʻEwa Beach
Degree: Bachelor of Applied Science–Health Professions

Among Ale’s most notable accomplishments was becoming the first organic chemistry tutor at the Noʻeau Center.
“Before going into organic chemistry, I was absolutely terrified because I heard it was one of the hardest science classes in undergrad,” Ale said. “But it ended up being my favorite class, and I went on to tutor it because I absolutely love this subject.”

Ale continued, “Being the first for something like that, I feel like as a Sāmoan woman, it was a big accomplishment because I’m hoping it’ll inspire more Pacific Islanders to go into STEM. … I want people to say, ‘If she can do it, so can I.’ ”

As a commencement student speaker, Ale hopes to emphasize to those in attendance the importance of people sharing their stories with one another.

“One of my biggest role models at UH West Oʻahu, Joseph Mareko, reminded me that we Sāmoans come from a long line of storytellers and sharing our stories can help heal, inspire or build deeper connections with others,” she said. “By sharing my story, I’m hoping to do the same.”

Her family is a big part of Ale’s story. Her father passed away in 2011.

“I know how much he wanted us to succeed in academia, and I can still picture that big smile he had when I graduated from 6th grade,” Ale recalled. “So graduating from college is kind of that ‘I did it, dad. We’re here. I made it’ moment.”

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Jesse Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku

Jesse Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku

Age: 24
From: Lualualei, Waiʻanae
Degrees: Bachelor of Applied Science–Sustainable Community Food Systems, Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences-Political Science

Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku is the first in his family to choose the path of a college education.

“Graduating with my undergraduate degree is a huge stepping stone to a healthy and happy life,” he said.
Part of pursuing a fulfilling life means helping others.

“Intentions shouldn’t be just about aspiring to make a living—aspire to make a difference,” he said.

He got involved with NiU NOW!, a movement whose mission is to strengthen Oceania’s knowledge, connection and aloha for cultural food sovereignty.

“My most notable achievement at UH West Oʻahu is participating in carrying out the collective vision (of) NiU NOW! through the creation and implementation of Aloha ʻĀina Student Service Club,” Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku said.

Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku is the current president of the club, which offers an opportunity for people to learn how to work the land with their hands and to get a better understanding of plants.

It’s a personal passion for Mikasobe-Kealiinohomuku, a Native Hawaiian plant conservationist and farmer who in his free time enjoys the practice of growing a diversity of plant varieties.

“Through these practices I want to emphasize that it’s very fun to share plant material as we try to advance a more equitable food system,” he said. “I also see the sharing of plants as empowerment of others in the growing of their own food and participating in systemic change.”

He is exploring the possibility of graduate school, and aspires to continue this work long past his studies.

“So far, I have my mind set on utilizing my degree in food systems on either the state or national level to assist my community in advancing a more sustainable and equitable food system,” he said.

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Michelle Zheng

Michelle Zheng

Age: 21
From: Kapolei
Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Creative Media–General Creative Media

For Zheng, confidence is key.

“Beyond the formal education of how to write papers, do research, and manage time, I think the biggest thing UH West Oʻahu has taught me is just to be confident and trust in my skills,” Zheng said.

She became editor of The Hoot, UH West Oʻahu’s student-run newspaper. Then the pandemic hit.

“Despite not having a formal advisor, I pulled together my team and we were still able to get two issues a semester out,” Zheng said. “Would I have volunteered for that role at first? No way. But duty called, and I was able to step up to the plate.”

Other opportunities at UH West Oʻahu resulted in a great sense of pride for Zheng, including creating wall decals and sticker designs for the Noʻeau Center, and working on her senior project, an animation of Aunty Puanani Burgess’ Building a Beloved Community story, “Boy with a Gift.” The project inspired Zheng to explore how to contribute to her own community.

“Looking ahead, I would like to continue to share stories through different mediums, whether that be on film, videos or animations,” Zheng said. “I hope to elevate smaller voices and share important stories with people, but most importantly, just make people laugh and feel supported.”

She wants to tell her fellow graduates to be proud of what they’ve accomplished and to continue persevering.

“No matter how long their journey may have taken or if they are on a completely different road than when they first started, they made it to that metaphorical end of the road,” Zheng said. “And as they look forward into the future, I hope they never forget the feelings of warmth and support that got them there, and I hope they reciprocate it to make the world a better place.”

Read more in Ka Puna O Kaloʻi.

—By Zenaida Serrano Arvman

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