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Tugade in cap and gown
Bryceson Tugade

Bryceson Gregory Kealiʻiwiwoʻoleikamaunakiʻekiʻe Tugade is hoping to convey some important messages as a student speaker at the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu’s commencement ceremony on December 9.

Always seek the “more” in life. Remain curious. Give back to your community. And one of the most valuable messages: Utilize education as a key tool for attaining personal growth and breaking down barriers.

Tugade, 23, of Aliamanu, will receive a bachelor of applied science with a concentration in Sustainable Community Food Systems (SCFS) at UH West Oʻahu’s 2023 Mid-Year Commencement.

“As a first-generation college student, this means the world and so much more,” said Tugade, who is Filipino, Native Hawaiian and Chinese. “This upcoming graduation stands as a testament to my family, peers and larger community that education can be a key driver in overcoming and breaking perceived barriers.”

Emerging leader

Tugade smiling

After graduating from Radford High School in 2018, Tugade enrolled at Leeward Community College, where he graduated in spring 2021 with an associate in science in sustainable agriculture—becoming the first in his family to receive a college degree. He then transferred in fall 2021 to UH West Oʻahu in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

“I was initially scared of the prospect of advancing my education,” Tugade said. “However, with staff and faculty assistance, I was not only becoming increasingly confident in my ability to perform within an academic realm, but pursuit of opportunities elsewhere was not met with doubt.”

Tugade has thrived—academically, professionally and personally—during his time at UH West Oʻahu. He found mentors in Albie Miles, his academic advisor and an associate professor in the SCFS program, as well as Indrajit Gunasekara, co-founder of the NiU NOW! (cultural agroforestry) movement and UH West Oʻahu financial aid officer, whom Tugade calls, “my aya (older brother in Sri Lankan).”

Gunasekara said Tugade’s passionate commitment to the Aloha ʻĀina (love of the land) movement is very inspiring to many.

“He’s always driven to expand his understanding of the work we do with the perspective of Indigenous understanding of where his roots belong, as well as making meaning within the framework of scientific theoretical engagement,” Gunasekara said. “He is a remarkable person, a highly intelligent and deep thinker who’s always ready to step in and to support whenever, whatever capacity the help is needed.”

Miles said Tugade has proven to be an exceptional multidisciplinary food system scholar.

“He has a keen interest in the biophysical sciences, working on the genetics of Polynesian introduced crops with mentors at UH Mānoa, while excelling in his understanding of the root causes of many of the challenges we face in the food system of Hawaiʻi and beyond,” Miles said.

‘For my dad’

Tugade aspires to earn a master of science degree at UH Mānoa, and eventually a PhD in tropical plant and soil sciences.

“I plan to continue addressing the layers of work that must be done to identify the current environmental, agricultural and social obstacles we face in Hawaiʻi, and strive to find solutions to assist and serve my community,” Tugade said. “By blending my understanding of science and Indigenous Hawaiian knowledge, I can help my community to reclaim control of our local and traditional food systems for health and livelihood.”

Although Tugade didn’t always see himself pursuing a degree as he was growing up, the prospect of higher learning was always a conversation in his household, and his father emphasized the value of education. His family would participate in fundraising events for students in his father’s barrio (town) of Bacar, Magsingal, in the Ilocos Sur region of the Philippines.

“During this semester, my resilience was tested once more—my father unexpectedly passed away this October from an advanced stage of TB,” Tugade said. “From grieving with my ʻohana, to focusing on graduation, and navigating a world without him, I hope to embody resilience and the significant role education can play in our lives.”

He added, “This upcoming graduation is for my dad.”

For more visit Ka Puna O Kaloʻi.

by Zenaida Serrano Arvman

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