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McElrath to keynote UH Hilo’s fall commencement

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Date: Tuesday, December 7, 2004
Contact: Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642

For Immediate Release

Fall 2004 Keynote Speaker Ah Quon McElrath

Esteemed labor union pioneer, social worker and Emeritus Regent Ah Quon McElrath will deliver the keynote address during fall commencement ceremonies at the University of Hawaii at Hilo . The event will be held on Saturday, December 18, 2004 beginning at 9:00 a.m. in the UH Hilo New Gym.

A total of 172 students representing the College of Arts and Sciences (142), College of Business and Economics (20) College of Agriculture, Forestry & Natural Resource Management (9), and Ka Haka `Ula O Ke`elikolani College of Hawaiian Language (1) are candidates for degrees or certificates.

McElrath, a key figure in the early years of Hawai`i’s labor movement, was born in 1915 in Iwilei, on O`ahu, the location of the world’s largest pineapple cannery. She was one of seven children born to parents who immigrated from China, all of whom went to work in the pineapple canneries by the age of 13.

An early advocate of education, which she described as “a window to the world,” McElrath became editor of her intermediate school newspaper.

McElrath had become politically active around the time she enrolled at the University of Hawai`i during the period of the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s. She actively supported the pre-World War II boycott of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and became a member of an activist group called the Inter-Professional Association.

She earned a B.A. in Sociology and graduated with honors in Anthropology in 1938, which became a critical year in Hawai`i’s labor history. That was the same year that legendary labor leader Jack Hall was arrested during the Inland Boatman’s Union strike that culminated in the August 1,1938 “Hilo Massacre,” that resulted in the wounding of 50 pickets by police gunfire.

McElrath’s work with Hall on the trade union paper, “Voice of Labor,” introduced her to Robert McElrath, whom she married in 1941.

During World War II, with Hawaii under martial law, the McElraths, along with others, organized four large companies, including the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, whose members were turned over to the International Longshoremen’s and Warehouseman’s Union (ILWU) when it was officially established in Hawai‘i in 1944. By 1954 the union had grown to include a consolidated membership of waterfront, sugar, pineapple, supermarket, hospital and hotel workers and various other trades.

The ILWU’s entry into negotiated medical, dental and pension plans and its social activism led to McElrath’s hiring by the union as a social worker. She was a familiar face at the state legislature, where McElrath lobbied on behalf of numerous standard of living improvements, including increases in public assistance, occupational safety, health care, improvements in worker’s compensation, unemployment insurance, a Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) Act, and ethnic and women’s equality, including abortion rights.

McElrath was appointed to the University of Hawai`i Board of Regents by then Governor Ben Cayetano in 1995 and served until 2003. Much of her tenure was spent chairing the Academic Affairs Committee, which she headed from 1998-2002. She also served twice as chair of the Committee on Student Affairs.
Earlier this year, she was honored with the UH Founders Alumni Association Lifetime Achievement Award, for her leadership in advocating social change in education and improving social conditions throughout Hawai`i. McElrath was also named a recipient of the 2004 Hooulu Award for leadership from the Hawai`i Institute for Public Affairs.

Candy Takeishi, a Mathematics major, will serve as the student speaker. Takeishi was born in Japan and raised in Kailua-Kona. She graduated from Kealakehe High School in 2001 and enrolled at UH Hilo in the fall.

Takeishi, who carries a 3.9 GPA has earned a wide range of academic honors. She made the Dean’s list in the College of Arts and Sciences each semester since the fall of 2001. Takeishi also received the Presidential and Charles R. Hemenway Scholarships and is a student member in the Mathematical Association of America.

She has been active in campus and community affairs. Takeishi, who plans to enter the teaching profession, is currently in her second consecutive semester of tutoring at Waiakea High School, after previously spending a semester at Hilo Union School. Her teaching talents however, are not limited to mathematics. She helped teach Tahitian dancing to UH Hilo students, and has performed at a number of events including International Nights and United Nations Day.

Her commencement address will focus on the challenge that lies ahead.

“We have learned and accomplished a lot to get here today,” Takeishi said. “The question is what will we do with our valuable knowledge and experiences after we leave here today?”

For more information on commencement, contact Haunani Bernardino at (808) 974-7705 or email For special accommodations, contact Susan Shirachi at (808) 933-0816 (V) or (808) 974-7335 (TTY). Requests for special accommodations should be made at least ten business days prior to the event.

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