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First in the nation MA highlights historic UH Hilo spring commencement

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Date: Saturday, May 18, 2002
Contact: Haunani Bernardino, (808) 974-7705, Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 987-1043 [cell]

For Immediate Release

Hiapo Perreira made history today by becoming the first student to receive a master of arts degree during the University of Hawai`i at Hilo's Spring Commencement ceremony at the UH Hilo New Gym. A total of 321 students were candidates for graduation on a day highlighted by first time events: 26 from the College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management; 280 from the College of Arts and Sciences; and 15 from Ka Haka `Ula O Ke`elikolani College of Hawaiian Language.

Perreira, the first graduate from the Ka Haka `Ula O Ke`elikolani College of Hawaiian Language to earn an MA degree in Hawaiian Language and Literature, is also the first student in the nation to receive an MA degree in a Hawaiian studies field or in any Native American language. A 1992 graduate of Kamehameha Schools, Perreira earned a bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies from UH Hilo in 1996. After receiving his BA, Perreira pursued the Kahuawaiola Teaching license in Ka Haka `Ula O Ke`elikolani College of Hawaiian Language. He wanted to continue studying Hawaiian literature and culture but at that time the MA program was still in development. Perreira helped to bring the MA program to life; when the program was established, he became part of the first cohort.

"The entire program was outstanding," Perreira said. "It was a great learning opportunity because my cohort was at the tip of the spear, because what we were doing had never been done before." Perreira's master's thesis is a cultural analysis of the ancient Hawaiian literary epic about the mystical hero, Kawelo, serialized in a Hawaiian language newspaper in 1905-1906. Perreira's thesis is 438 pages long and is written entirely in Hawaiian.

"It was important for me to write my thesis in Hawaiian to show that scholarly work can be done in Hawaiian," he said.

Perreira was one of 80 students of Hawaiian ancestry eligible for various degrees at today's commencement. Perreira plans to continue teaching after graduation and would like to help bring a Ph.D program to UH Hilo so he can continue his studies. Clayton Hee, an Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee, assisted in the hooding of Perreira.

Other graduates making history included the first four degree candidates to earn their diplomas at neighbor island locations via UH Hilo's cutting edge distance learning program through Hawai'i Interactive Television System (HITS).

The four are Amory Huliheenamakaokalani Burgess of Waipahu, Wendell Iwai of Honolulu, Cynthia Giebenk and Ruth-Jane Maddela, both of Maui. Burgess and Iwai received bachelor of science degrees in computer science hosted by Leeward Community College in Pearl City, Giebenk received a B.S. in computer science and Maddela a bachelor of arts in Hawaiian studies. Both were hosted by Maui Community College.

University of Hawai`i President Dr. Evan Dobelle delivered the keynote address. Dobelle, the 12th president of the 10-campus UH system, reminded the graduates that responsibility walks in close formation with the benefits of a college education.

"Yours must be the voices that cry out for human dignity; yours must be the hands which lift high the human spirit; and yours must be the eyes that see the potential in every child," Dobelle said. "This is your mandate - and it is because of who you are and what you have learned here that you cannot avoid it."

Joseph Watts represented the Class of 2002 as the student speaker. Watts, who earned a certificate in teacher education, maintained a 3.86 GPA and made the Dean's List in Fall 2000. His address covered the beauty of UH Hilo and the many sources of inspiration that have helped the graduating class of Spring 2002 achieve its goals.

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