The post-COVID UH Hilo will be a different place, to be sure, but it will still be guided by the same values of community, student support, diversity, and excellence that characterize our university today.
April and May are generally a time of great celebration at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, and I know many of us are feeling the loss of various events and rituals that are going to look substantially different this year. The most notable, of course, is commencement, with its pomp and circumstance, ritual and joy. This year, we are putting together a virtual ceremony, along with giving students the option of returning when we are allowed to come together again to celebrate their accomplishments in person.
However important the ceremony, though, the accomplishment still is the most important thing. Students who have spent years working toward their degree will still have that certification in hand if they finish the last of their graduation requirements this year, and as we emerge from the COVID crisis into a new world, we will need the skills that we have helped those students acquire. And even though students and families may miss the event itself, I know each and every student will have memories of UH Hilo that they will carry with them into their personal and professional lives.
May is also the time we traditionally honor our retirees, award winners, and those who have contributed 10, 20, or 30 years of service to our wonderful university. That celebration, too, will be different this year. We are preparing a video tribute as well as inviting all those being recognized back to campus at a later date when we may congratulate them in person. Our retirees, after an aggregate total of 411 years of service to UH Hilo, are entering the next chapter of their lives into a world that has many unknowns. Plans have been disrupted; changes are still underway, but that does not diminish the value of their work here at our university. Likewise, our years-of-service honorees, with a sum total of 390 years, and our award winners are working steadily behind the scenes at home or behind a mask on campus to continue to support this university we all cherish.
The post-COVID UH Hilo will be a different place, to be sure, but it will still be guided by the same values of community, student support, diversity, and excellence that characterize our university today. Our Hoku-pa‘a (our North Star, fixed for our navigation) is still the success of each of our students, and as we make sacrifices now to protect our future, it is these students who will remain our focus. How we best support them while keeping ourselves safe and healthy and with a constrained budget is our challenge, and I am confident that working together, we will meet it.
Whenever something does not go quite the way I had planned, I tell myself, “Well, at least I’ll have a story to tell.” The story we will have to tell about this time in the history of UH Hilo is a powerful one that will resonate for many years to come. This year’s students and staff have made sacrifices, have given up important events, in order to keep our families and communities safe. We have learned what we are capable of, what really matters, and what we can do when we all put our ideas and efforts together.
Congratulations to the class of 2020, and mahalo to the faculty and staff that have all worked to help get our students over the finish line in a time of unprecedented challenge. I will be telling your story for a long time to come.
Be well and stay safe.
Bonnie D. Irwin
Photo of mortarboard by Raiatea Arcuri, Spring 2019 Commencement.