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janice ikeda receiving doctoral hood
Janice Ikeda, center, received an honorary Doctor of Law degree. (Photo Credit: Gonzaga University)

After receiving a scholarship from local nonprofit Alu Like at the start of her college career 22 years ago, Hawaiʻi Community College and University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo alumna Janice Ikeda has come full circle in the Hawaiʻi Island community. Today, she serves as the executive director of Vibrant Hawaiʻi, a nonprofit collective-impact organization that has been convening resilience hubs, supporting digital literacy, distributing grants and micro-investments and more.

Ikeda’s work with Vibrant Hawaiʻi caught the attention of Gonzaga University leadership, and on May 13, 2023, she delivered the keynote address and was awarded an honorary doctor of law degree at Gonzaga University’s graduate school commencement.

It was a tremendous honor, Ikeda said, but noted it was an entire community of people being recognized.

“Before starting an ʻaha, or a meeting, we often ask folks, ‘Who are you bringing with you into this space?’” said Ikeda. “I brought with me everyone from Hawaiʻi Island and throughout our state who has been a part of this endeavor to build a thriving and vibrant Hawaiʻi. It was an honor that I received on behalf of us all.”

Building courage

Ikeda was a young single mom at the time she encountered Alu Like, a nonprofit that distributes scholarships for Native Hawaiian students to attend college.

“I was feeling like a complete failure as a wife, as a mom, and as an adult,” Ikeda said.
Alu Like’s scholarship helped her enroll at Hawaiʻi CC where she majored in information technology. Hawaiʻi CC became part of Ikeda’s base of support, which she credits with setting her on a new path.

“It reframed my identity and gave me opportunities to build capacity and learn things that in turn built confidence, built courage and the feeling that if I could do this thing that is hard, maybe I could do something else that’s hard, too,” Ikeda said.

After graduating from Hawaiʻi CC, Ikeda earned a bachelor’s degree from UH Hilo, a master’s degree from Gonzaga University and built a career working at Hawaiʻi Island nonprofits, most notably Vibrant Hawaiʻi.

Get chance

Since 2018, Ikeda has been the executive director of Vibrant Hawaiʻi, convening resources, people, communities, knowledge and experience to ensure people have a chance and a choice—values reflected in the grounding statement of the organization.

“Our former Mayor, Billy Kenoi, said, ‘Everyone just wants to know that they get chance, and they get choice,’” Ikeda said. “Chance is what we are given, it is that expression of equity. Choice is our agency and what we do with the chances that are offered to us.”

Ikeda and Vibrant Hawaiʻi were also given the Mahalo Award by Hawaiʻi CC this year, which recognizes community organizations that support the college and its students.

“It’s like my personal manifesto that resonates in that grounding statement,” she said. “That’s speaking directly to that young single mom I was.”

Ikeda noted her journey holds lessons “not only for the person who is feeling like a failure, but more so for those of us who are now in positions of privilege to create conditions and invitations for others to have a chance.”

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