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Chancellor’s Message: Private donors play an important role in higher education

By Don Straney.

Margaret Ushijima
Margaret Ushijima

A general student support fund is being established at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo to honor the late Margaret Ushijima and her legacy of service at UH. The fund will be used to assist UH Hilo students, especially those who are first generation college students and those in financial need.

The Margaret Ushijima Fund for Student Assistance and Support is a fund in perpetuity—continuing Margaret’s work “forever”—and will be administered by the vice chancellor for student affairs.

Margaret’s legacy of service to UH lives on through her gift, bestowed to the Richardson Law School at UH Mānoa and UH Hilo, a lasting reminder of a woman who had a profound impact on so many people in Hawai‘i and beyond.

Margaret Ushijima had been counseling students on the importance of higher education for many years as UH Hilo’s dean of students before retiring in 1980. But she didn’t actually retire—she decided to live out her belief in higher education and go to law school, at age 51.

Her dear friend Janet Fujioka says Margaret was a person of great conviction who always supported education and so it was a remarkable decision that when she “retired,” she went back to school.

Margaret received her bachelor of arts in social science and her master of arts in social work before beginning her career at UH Hilo. But along with her belief in the importance of higher education was a strong sense of social justice and equality, which eventually led her to the UH Mānoa William S. Richardson School of Law.

After obtaining her juris doctor degree, Margaret joined her husband to form the family law firm, Ushijima & Ushijima. In the 1970s, Margaret and Janet were involved in a movement that pushed for the ratification of the equal rights amendment in Hawai‘i. The two embarked on an extensive campaign throughout the islands, speaking at numerous engagements on the importance of equality. Hawai‘i later became the first state to ratify the amendment.

Margaret’s life is inspirational in so many ways. Raised on a plantation on Hawai‘i Island, her parents were born in Hawai‘i in the 1890s and did not have the chance to complete high school and attend college. Yet they supported her to pursue her own dreams and aspirations. Jumpstarted with this parental support and dedication, Margaret embodied the “gambare spirit” and values passed down to her from her parents.

As we see with Margaret’s generosity in her gift to UH, behind every support fund or scholarship at UH Hilo is an individual or a company that has a connection to the university and a desire to help our students. People share their estate with UH Hilo because they may see it as an investment in the future or they may realize the importance of an education and want to pay forward the opportunities given them while at UH Hilo as a student, staff or faculty member.

It’s clear what a vitally important role private donors can play in opening up access to higher education, supporting students while they complete their education and contribute to their communities.

On behalf of our students, I’d like to take this opportunity to express gratitude to our donors. I hope members of our university and local communities, business people, alumni, and others are inspired by Margaret Ushijima’s example of making an investment in the future of our island by funding student support services and scholarships.

Don Straney