Gabriela Aguilar Lawlor

Vulcan Athlete Gabriela Aguilar Lawlor shares her aloha for UH Hilo as Student Speaker of the 2019 Fall Commencement

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Gabriela earned her bachelor of arts in political science and plans to continue her education at UH Hilo to pursue a second degree in kinesiology while competing on the Vulcan tennis team.

A copy of her 2019 Fall Commencement Student Speaker speech is published below, courtesy of Gabriela Aguilar Lawlor:

Commencement Speech

Abraham Lincoln said, “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” It is important to remember on this exciting day that our journey does not end here, in fact we are now just beginning. Vulcan pride reminds me to Imua every day. We must move forward with our new knowledge, both learned in class and in our everyday experiences, and use it to make the world a better place.

When I first touched down in Hilo, I had no idea what to expect, but it became evident very quickly that this University was special. The friendships I have made here are the ones that I am confident will stretch far into the future, they are truly my Ohana. The culture of inclusiveness is one like no other college campus in the entire United States, and that is why I believe it is the perfect location for the creation of the leaders of tomorrow.

Imagine 15 years from now looking up your alma mater and seeing your name listed on the notable Alumni for outstanding research in Marine Biology, grinding it out and becoming a professional athlete or developing life-saving pharmaceuticals… winning a Nobel Peace Prize for exemplifying what it means to have pono and love in your heart…. These are all possibilities because we are the what’s next, and we have all earned it.

I may be an idealist, but I believe that if we bring forth our strength and will, all things can become possible. When I first decided to choose Hilo as my home for the next few years of my life, I was unaware of the adventure it was going to take me on. Heartbreak, failure, loss, disappointment, embarrassment, and these are just to name a few. I realize these all seem like bad emotions, however if you have gone through the college experience than you understand that with each of these feelings comes a lesson that we didn’t quite realize we needed until we were reflecting and growing as people from it.

Heartbreak taught me that when you least expect it someone can walk into you life and be the best friend you never thought you wanted, but most definitely needed.

Failure showed me that although we will fall short at times, our professors pushed us to our limits to find the lesson that we can take into our academic and personal futures.

Loss and disappointment by far taught me the greatest lesson, which is that in life you will be disappointed often, but it is not the outcome you will be judged by, but in fact by the way you hold your head.

Embarrassment is an emotion we are all a bit hesitant to admit we feel, however through my many embarrassments I have learned that the only person whose judgment matters is your own, and as long as you can have pride in your ability to spread love and show courage there is no one who can make you feel otherwise.

It is important that together as a class we remember to forgive all and forget nothing.  The Moral is we are the next generation of fighters for this world, not only this country. Coming from a university that is so diverse, we have to take our knowledge of acceptance into our adult lives and work to create the planet that we can have pride in. There is no such thing as I anymore, we together as a collective people need to rise to the occasion and take back the values that we believe in, because that is what the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, and the local culture has instilled in me. Together we can, because we all matter. A hui hou.

Heather Kekahuna

Anthropology and history student Heather Kekahuna, shares her journey of discovering her Native Hawaiian culture and identity at UH Hilo

My name is Heather Leilani Kekahuna and I am from Southern California.  The reason why I chose to attend UH Hilo was to gain a sense of my culture and have the opportunity to appreciate learning from a small class size setting and a campus with low student ratios. What I find to be a huge plus is that faculty really take notice of their students. As time is precious, it’s nice to see faculty engage with their students after class or during office hours, making themselves available with an open door.

I have learned that the more time I have with my professors and being able to address concerns about coursework and other questions, the more rewarding it is for me in terms of being a better student. The relationships that students have with their faculty are key to being successful in college. I find that UH Hilo can be very helpful for those that need more 1-on-1 attention with their instructors, especially since UH Hilo offers an awesome and relaxed chill atmosphere.

The reason I chose to major in anthropology is my interest and passion for archaeology and preserving history. One day I hope to pursue a career not just in archaeology but also to teach history at the high school level. I feel it is important to study anthropology to learn about our history, ways to work with other cultures and learn to develop ways to be sustainable the ways my ancestors did.

My advice to those who are planning to attend UH Hilo is to come with a sense of passion within their own journey. For me, I was born and raised on the mainland, and being of Native Hawaiian ancestry, I have had to learn, reach out for support and take at least one Hawaiian Studies class each semester. I have had to immerse myself into a culture I have spent a lifetime identifying with. I highly advise those who have been away from their ancestral homeland and even those of non-Native Hawaiian ancestry to also immerse and educate themselves to gain a sense of community that not just surrounds UH Hilo, but the very ʻāina that the University of Hawai`i resides on.

As a Native Hawaiian, I take great pride in what my ancestors left behind: to preserve and sustain our culture for future generations. My experience with the faculty at UH Hilo has been a wonderful experience as I have been guided and supported on so many levels. I find that UH Hilo offers many amazing programs that support students from all walks of life. The programs and services I take advantage of are Kīpuka Native Hawaiian Student Center, Student Support Services, LGBTQ+, Women’s Center and Disability Services. They have all assisted me in some way and I am extremely grateful to UH Hilo for this. I consider this learning outside of the classroom, which makes me better prepared and equipped for life after college. UH Hilo has definitely provided me with a foundation I know I wouldn’t get elsewhere.

Jennet Chang

Jennet Chang, Tropical Horticulture student from Samoa, talks about her journey – “Unity in Diversity”

Greetings and Talofa! My name is Jennet Chang and I am an islander from American Samoa; the only U.S. territory located in the Southern hemisphere, southwest of Hawai’i. My journey to the University of Hawai’i at Hilo was never as smooth as a walk in the park or water off a duck’s back. Like many college students, I struggled with the decision of choosing a  school whose vision and goals mirrored my dreams and ambitions. With guidance and suggestions from several mentors who are professors at the American Samoa Community College (ASCC), I selected UH Hilo. Choosing UH Hilo was no mistake for me because I felt right at home. Campus has a high percentage of diverse students with such different yet welcoming attitudes. The school campus also provided me with  various options to explore: clubs, majors, job opportunities, recreational activities and friends. Tips for incoming students: do research on the school first. Look at the statistics of students attending, check out the different programs that are offered, talk to alumni, check out the campus and the professors. You’d be surprised at what you’ll find out.

Before UH Hilo, my interest in agriculture peaked during my senior year of high school. As a senior  student, I had the opportunity to take part in a local program involving students to work study at certain local businesses. There, I worked on a hydroponic farm called “Hirata Hydrogarden”  where I had the opportunity to learn as many techniques and problem-solving experiences humanly possible. Fast-forward to applying to UH Hilo. I was drawn to the Tropical Science in Horticulture Specialty major and was privileged to be accepted into the program. I’ve been in UH Hilo since Fall 2017 majoring in horticulture and not once did I ever think of switching majors due to the amazing staff at the College of Agriculture, Forestry, and Natural Resources Management (CAFNRM) Department. The professors in the department are approachable, they care about their students academic journeys as well as their well beings and they encourage a feeling of camaraderie that I have never experienced before . In addition to that,  the CAFNRM students and I always enjoy talking stories with the professors, which range in topic from our embarrassing moments to a weekend activity.

My major provides countless hands-on activities on campus, especially at the UH Hilo Farm. To be honest, I feel like my classes involve more fun lab activities than lectures. I chose this major because I  am passionate about the need to help sustain our natural resources for future generations to come. If you really think about it, what’s there to eat if no one studies the sustainability of plants and animals affected by climate change? Aside from being a horticulture student, I’m also proud to be a representative for the Toa O Samoa and Pre-vet club. My experiences in those clubs have been fruitful and satisfying. Within those clubs I was fortunate to meet intellectual and fun students that made me feel like I belonged, and were also passionate about the same causes I hold dear to my heart. They are a source of continuous blessings to me that I would forever be thankful for. Therefore, the most important thing that I am excited to be a part of as a student at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo, is “Unity in Diversity.”