Holly Trowbridge

English student shares what inspires her most about UH Hilo

I applied to UH Hilo for multiple reasons. I wanted an avenue to independence, and I wanted to be far away enough from home not to have my parents breathing down my neck, but close enough to home that I could travel back to ‘Oahu on a moment’s notice if that was ever needed. 

I’m so glad I got in, because as it happens, my family actually relocated to Oak Park, Illinois, and I was ready to attend UH Hilo! This meant that travelling quickly would no longer be an option, but it also meant that I would have the quintessential independent college experience. 

I learned so much more about myself, and my values by attending this university. I got very connected with the performing arts department, and I even changed my major from Pre-Nursing to English! I wrote for Ke Kalahea as a Staff Writer, and I got really involved with tons of different clubs.

UH Hilo taught me how to be an independent, more stylized me! I’ve grown in countless ways, and I’ve met so many amazing people along this journey. The community took me in, valued me, like a precious little stone — a red diamond, and loved me into a new and altered person. I was presented with a truly valuable experience, and for that I will be forever grateful. Now I am on a road to who knows where, as I graduate and explore the mainland. I can’t wait to see what’s in store for me next! Stay cool, stay fresh, my UHH ‘Ohana! 

Jacinda Angelsberg

Jacinda Angelsberg

Through a Unique Pair of Eyes: My Experience with High Functioning Autism

By: Jacinda Angelsberg

Jacinda on surfboardImagine what it would feel like to live in a world that seems “alien” where communication is a foreign language. This is what individuals with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) like myself experience on a daily basis as we ponder about the complexities of social interactions. From my experience with ASD and depression, I have developed immense gratitude for having the opportunity to attend psychology courses taught by wonderful professors at UH Hilo that have inspired me to become an advocate for the voiceless. Also, my mother’s positivity had contributed to me overcoming adversity by transforming some of my deficits into linguistic strengths. Finding my talent of perceiving the world with a uniquely compassionate pair of eyes has enabled me to embrace and find beauty in neurodiversity. Thus, I hope that my life-story will inspire you to focus on what you “can do” instead of what you “can’t do.” Do not speak badly to your mind. This is because the spiritual warrior within your soul can become lessened by these degrading words. For flowers of self-love to grow, you must clear out your mind’s weeds of negativity. Loving yourself is not about fixing or finding out what is “wrong” with you; it is about finding out what is “right” with you.

Before I was born, my mother dreamt of a little girl standing in front of her bookshelf filled with novels of all kinds. Upon being conceived as a premature infant who weighed merely 4.5 pounds, I screamed at the top of my lungs from the over-stimulating brightness of the hospital’s fluorescent lights and the umbilical cord being tightly wrapped around my feet. After loudly awaking the other newborns in the intensive care unit, the uncomfortable sensation of being held in the frustrated nurse’s arms as she briskly returned me back to my mother made me cry hysterically. Deep down inside, she sensed that something was “off.” However, rather than having the initial reaction of rejecting her baby simply because of her atypicality, she thought to herself, “I know that she is different. And, I will always love her for who she is.”

Ever since I came out of the womb, my mother has shown me undying patience, empathy, and nurturing. Shortly after I turned two, her premonition for my fascination with reading came true. She intuitively knew that it would aid in my cognitive development and fuel my penchant for writing. Tenaciously working long graveyard-shifts as an ultrasound technologist and a single-mother, she never forgot to read me books when she returned home. This would soothe my soul from all the sensory difficulties that I experienced each day. Reading to me made the chaotic, ear-splitting sounds of the outside environment, and the unbearable texture of my clothes that felt like knives penetrating my skin temporarily fade away.

Fast-forwarding to high school, I did not perform well on standardized tests due to my delayed processing and comprehension-challenges. Yet, this did not bring me down since my encouraging, wise Japanese teacher told me that I did not have a “standardized mind.” With great appreciation for my mother inspiring me to never give up, I read passages multiple times until I understood them, and I “rewired” my brain. This has ultimately led to me becoming a true bibliophile at heart and a poet. Now, my room is stacked with a vast array of psychology, shamanic, and botanical books.

At times, I may be wordless. My hands speak louder than my mouth, but I am not heard less. Through writing, I have found my voice. As you can see, we all have a profound purpose here on Earth: to find our gift and to give it away. Every human being possesses a remarkable talent. Therefore, we must search for it within ourselves since the soul has the answer.

Also, I have had significantly impaired fine-motor coordination from a young age. Still to this day, it is rather difficult for me to unlock doors with keys, use a knife and a fork at the same time while cutting food, unbuttoning clothing with finesse, opening the plastic grocery-store bags for produce, using a flat-iron, and many other daily activities that too many of us take for granted. Moving the part that puts a car’s transmission into “park” or “drive,” hyperfocusing on external distractions, and adjusting my seat with the lever are some challenges that impede me from driving. I was also unskilled in team-sports due to the complexity of understanding the rules and my lack of coordination. However, I became very skillful in mixed martial arts with practice. Starting boxing from an early age and learning balancing poses by practicing forms such as “statue of the crane” in karate has improved my balance and movement. Even though I cannot ride a bike, I am good at stand-up-paddle-boarding, long-boarding, and yoga. As I walk to the beat of my own drum, l embrace my clumsiness! 

Jacinda on roadIn music class, I was unable to use multiple fingers at once to play the piano. Also, I could not accomplish the basic hand-motions of beating taiko drums while thinking of the music notes at the same time. I cannot sense traditional tempo or orchestral rhythm. As time progressed, I realized that I have a great ear for the music of Mother Earth. I find immense solace in the sound of the trees swaying in the breeze, croaking coqui frogs, and identifying the different chirps of Hawaiian birds hidden in the foliage as I venture in the forest. The heartbeat of Nature is a sacred sound that I can hear.

As an artsy, right-brained thinker, I possess very few logical skills due to my neurodevelopmental disorder. For example, I am often reminded to not go hiking in dangerous weather conditions or to not wear sandals on stormy days. Additionally, I have an impaired short-term and working memory that results in me doing steps of daily tasks in an out-of-order-sequence such as applying soap before the water when washing my hands or remembering to turn on the patio-light before I open the patio-door at night, not afterwards.

Outside of these closed doors, the struggles behind my high functioning autism are nearly invisible. Thus, I hope to someday make mental health awareness visible.

Jacinda by fenceDespite being very amiable and sweet, I somewhat have difficulty with getting along well with just about anyone. The origin of this challenge dwells in not knowing how to maintain long-lasting friendships with peers of my age and the stigma that I have endured. After being discriminately referred to as “stupid,” “retarded,” “a shame,” “a burden,” “loner,” and an “outcast” from passersby, I withdrew. Taking each degrading word too close to my heart, I became a solitary hermit and retreated into my inner-utopia.

Once I obtained the courage to stand up for myself, I was surrounded by positive influences. I learned that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma is a shame. Coping with the afflictions of autism is a burden, but I am not a burden. It is only a burden to those who are not yet enlightened. I send them my conscious-raising blessings. Now, I have no fear of being rejected and aspire to educate others about the importance of right speech – to value all sentient beings as who they are, not what they are.

Even though I feel introverted when it comes to day-to-day conversations and interpreting indirect social cues, I am an empath within. Despite this polarity, I radiate kindness towards every individual in need of help who comes my way. It is my calling to give people who are suffering words of guidance. Every morning, I motivate myself to go on a quest to make someone else’s day better, whether it be mysteriously placing food and a warm blanket beside a sleeping man without a home, taking the time to keenly listen to another’s feelings, or giving a sad person a smile.

Throughout the early years of my life, I felt as if I did not belong to the planet that I inherited. Yet, my mother’s instillment of self-esteem and loving words of encouragement made me realize that this was untrue over time. Like other individuals on the spectrum, I learned that I  was not meant to fit in this world because I was born to help create a new one – a world of compassion and tolerance. In turn, I have gained immense sympathy and unconditional positive regard for others with my condition, as well as, every suffering person who walks the Earth. Although certain areas in my brain over-compensated for the underdeveloped aspects that have been impaired from my high functioning autism, I have learned to stand strong in the face of stigma and to see the “able” instead of the “label” as I continue on my endless journey of progress. This has enabled me to accept being “differently wired” and to humbly find the profound “ability” in “disability.”

Please peruse my poem that can teach you to embrace being different:

Different Is Beautiful

Conformity is a societal deformity
In sameness lies the imperfection
Of blindly following the majority
Uniqueness is indeed true perfection

Beautiful is the gothic one
Who visits a burial ground
To have a picnic with none
But a spirit’s silent sound

Beautiful is the unconventional lady
Who wears heavenly white at funerals
Instead of conventionally gloomy dresses as shady
Gray as a grave’s engraved numerals

Beautiful is the lonesome girl
Who sits all alone
With individuality shining like a pearl
Proud to never be another clone.

Beautiful is the outcast
Who resembles a warrior fearless
Of being cast out
And fiercely peerless

Beautiful is the clairvoyant-
Artist who paints God’s visions
Wearing a red beret so flamboyant
As she foretells thy future decisions

Beautiful is the woman who ceases to be labeled
Remaining undefined
By those solely viewing her as disabled
For she has a remarkable mind unconfined

Beautiful is the witchy crone
Like her forgotten spell cast away
To the heavens where virtuous magic shone
Brightly over the world’s scorn of a misunderstood castaway

To be eccentric
Is to be free
Amongst concentric
Crowds lacking glee

Resist to exist in superficiality
Like a bold nail persisting
To never let the herd-mentality
Smash it with a hammer insisting
That it should surrender to being pounded
Painfully into the wood of compliance
For it shall stick out unbounded
To normalcy and stand tall in defiance

Jasmine Joao

Jasmine Joao

Transfer student majoring in Japanese and  minoring in History, shares why coming “home” to UH Hilo was one of the best decisions she ever made

Degrees:
I’m Japanese major with a minor in history. I graduate in the Spring 2021.

High School:
I attended Henry Perrine Baldwin High school on Maui.

Hometown City/State:
Well, I was born on Molokai and lived there for the first 5-ish years of my life before moving to Maui.

What would be your personal motto?
I realize this is a bad foot to start on but probably something along the lines of, “Expect the worst and be surprised by better.” Although contemplative nihilist, E.M. Cioran says it better than I ever could, saying, “Having always lived in the fear of being surprised by the worst, I have tried in every circumstance to get a head start, flinging myself into misfortune long before it occurred,” which I realize is rather pessimistic but it is honest. I commend all optimists, it is far easier to believe in nothing than to hold out the vague and foggy hope of something. When I grow up, I’d very much like to be an optimist, is that so much to hope for?

How do you think your friends and family would describe you?
I think my friends would say happy and organized and my family would tell me book-smart and chaotic. I’ll neither confirm or deny these assumed assessments. To do so would either be too congratulatory and pretentious or express a certain degree of self-loathing – both of which seem problematic. I’ll simply say that according to the first three results of a random adjective generator I am, “parched,” “hesitant,” and “aquamarine.” Which, all things considered, is fair. A round of applause for the random adjective generator. *Insert muted clapping*

What are your favorite hobbies, ways to spend your weekend?
Hobbies – who has the time nowadays? The more I think about this question and what my realistic answer would be, the more I realize how much time I spend in my own company. I enjoy reading non-fiction historical books, most certainly on the failings of the horrible 17th President of the United States Andrew Johnson, and a variety of other more topical novels. I’ve had an off and on affection for crocheting – all of my projects have some form of fault in them and yet crocheting has become a rather calming past-time lately. Continually, I am inclined to express an added inclination for baking but ask any of my friends and you’ll discover that while I may enjoy the idea, the product often doesn’t live up to my excitement. All I want to know how to bake is bread and yet I can hardly bake boxed brownies. It’s a work in progress.

What is a typical day like for you?
I was about to say that it depends on the day but I realized that the things in my day primarily remain the same but the order can vary. To start, I wake up around 6:30am, and then do some combination of tuning into classes, work meetings, and/ or club zoom meetings, starting in on one homework or the other, reading, answering an onslaught of emails, and drinking copious amounts of tea. In the evenings, I am delighted to speak with some combination of friends or family over the phone. I’m afraid it doesn’t get much more exciting than that, no grand schemes or bank robberies. Outside my window, the birds chirp, a couple down the street continues to fight, an old man sits at the corner of the block in the mid-afternoon, and children laugh as they ride their bikes in the street. It’s a quiet sort of contentment.

What are you happiest doing?
I’m happiest talking to people. I adore good conversation and company. There’s always so much to say and so much to discover about everyone. It gives me the greatest pleasure in meeting anyone who shares in the desire to talk about anything and everything all at once. There’s a great deal of good in silence as well, but it’s the joy of muddled understanding and excited exclamations or even the warmth of simply hearing about someone’s day.

How has your life been different than what you imagined?
Oh boy. At 5, I was sure I would become a princess-fashion-designer-author who wrote about fairies. At 10, however, I embraced practicality and decided on electrical engineering. After one book on how light bulbs work, I quickly gave that up. After reading a conspiracy book about the Big Bang at 11, I was sure that I would become an astrophysicist and solve the mysteries of the universe. I packed that dream up at 12 when I had the dramatic realization that my destiny was not in science, but law. I would practice law and live in a secluded cottage in the woods with two dogs. People, goodness, who needed to see them. I would work mainly remotely or commute in when needed. That dream of being a lawyer lasted all the way through high school and my first year of college. I prepped for exams, created spreadsheets for law schools, and studied LSAT flashcards. Then, as the pattern goes, I completely turned my plans on their non-existent heads. I didn’t want to be a lawyer and live oceans away from everyone that I knew and loved. I’m not completely sure what will come of my life but I can say for sure that I’m not going to be a princess-fashion-designer-author, electrical engineer, or astrophysicist. 🙂

How would you like to be remembered?
As a human? Is this to mean ‘remembered’ as if I died? Because if that’s the case, I’d like to not be remembered at all, at least not by a great many people. Many expectations and judgement comes along with being remembered. We all live as different versions of ourselves in other peoples’ memories. We aren’t ourselves. We are what they perceive us to be. It’s far too much pressure to hope to be remembered as anything extraordinary. Everyone does the best that they can and I’d hope I was kind to those that did know me. At least kind enough so that I don’t have a Scrooge-like ghost of christmas future moment where I see people that knew me dancing on my grave. That’d be just a tad unfortunate.

Do you have any regrets
Nope!

What are your dreams?
Most recently I had a dream about being on a floating island made of bubble gum surrounded by a sea made of laundry soap and I had the distinct impression that everything smelled strongly of pineapple. But in all seriousness, I don’t have any strong impressions of what I want out of life besides happiness. I suppose that is the goal, isn’t it? I’d like to spend every Christmas with those I love and adore. I’d like to have a family of my own to bake for along with day trips to libraries and nights of Monopoly. I don’t think I have an exact dream, more a vague inclination that I’d like what everyone wants: to be happy. However, if we are dreaming big here, I’ll take a magic unicorn alongside my happiness.

What does your future hold?
Goodness. I haven’t the faintest idea. I think we like to believe in plans and the future we’d like to have but it all gets washed away. Nothing ever goes perfectly to plan. I can make as many projection graphs and spreadsheets as I’d like but I could still never tell you where I’ll be ten years from now or even two years from now. It’s all frightening and exciting, two emotions which give one the thrill and anxiety in pursuit of the unfathomable.

Why did you choose to attend UH Hilo?
That’s a whirlwind. I originally started college at Pacific University in Oregon back in 2018 right out of high school. It was the only school I applied to, I was sure that I would be happy and successful there. I was sure of it. When I got there, I went to classes, joined clubs, got a job, made friends – all the normal reasonable things one does. But I wasn’t happy. It felt like I should be happy, it was what I wanted, right? That was a question I asked myself. After my first year there, I went home to Maui for summer break. It was only three months, I had told myself. Three months and then I would be on a six-hour flight back to Oregon. Within the first month back, I laughed with my family again over countless games of scrabble, I sat under towering trees and stared at the skyline below with my friends, and I was happy. How could I go back? I transferred to UH Hilo at the end of June 2019, wanting to stay close to home without being at home. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

What are your favorite parts about being a student here at UH Hilo?
It’s hard to pick. Visiting the library and borrowing more books than I can carry. Chatting with friends at random tables and finding corners to study in. Signing up for a position as a General editor on a whim and discovering it’s one of your greatest joys. Late nights spent gluing poster boards together and everyone laughing the next day when the project deadline is extended. There’s a lot of good parts.

What have your experiences been like with students here?
Oh, wonderful. There isn’t much more to say besides wonderful. I have met some of the best people in my life here. There are so many people I know now that I can’t imagine ever not knowing. It’s been truly amazing and I will be forever a better person to have interacted with the other students here.

What campus clubs or activities are you involved in?
I’m currently the Editor-in-Chief of Hohonu, UH Hilo’s academic journal. I started as a General Editor at the end of the last school year. The previous team and Editor-in-Chief laid a wonderful foundation for the academic journal and we wouldn’t be in the position we are this year without all the support and guidance. The Academic journal annually publishes a body of student work as reflective of the current student body as possible. This year, especially with regard to Covid restrictions, much of the format for participating in activities has been limited but I’ve been very fortunate to still have met marvelous individuals to which I will be everly grateful and better for having known.

What is your favorite memory at UH Hilo?
I was sitting outside on one of the tables going down the hall between the library and K-building and there was a test to prepare for. Well, apparently a few of my classmates had the same idea to study along that hall and one by one we sort of all congealed together. Somehow a good half of the class ended up crammed together on two pushed together tables, all with our heads buried in books or flashcards as we muttered under our breaths. Every few minutes there’d be a loud exclamation of defeat from one person or the other and everyone else would stop for a moment to console them with phrases like, “As long as you don’t get less than 50%, you’re doing great,” or “If we all fail, the professor will probably let us retake the test.” I don’t know why I find that memory so endearing. I just do. It’s the thought of all coming together despite not knowing each other well. And the, “oh, I didn’t know you like that, too” moments that are so incredibly extraordinary.

For future UH Hilo students, is there any wisdom you would like to pass on? What would you want them to know?
I would want them to just remember to take care of themselves. College isn’t easy. You try and you try and that becomes exhausting. You deserve to take care of yourself just like you’d take care of anyone else. Call your friends. Call your family. Tell the people in your life how much they mean to you. It’s a long road and it’s harder to do anything alone. Remember that it’s okay to lean on people and be honest about what you need. It’s okay to ask for help, we’re all human and we all struggle. It doesn’t make you any less wonderful to acknowledge your limits and to give yourself some slack. All in all, be kind to others and don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

Jacinda Angelsberg

Jacinda Angelsberg

Jacinda won the 2019 Droste and Yoneko Award for Outstanding Work in Poetry, has been published in Kanilehua numerous times, is currently working on Kanilehua for the 2020-2021 academic year, and is in the process of finalizing her own nonprofit foundation to help the homeless.

My Journey into the Light of Altruism
By: Jacinda Angelsberg

Mending broken hearts, lifting the fallen, and healing the hurting is my obligation. Throughout my life, I nomadically moved in search of a place with a peaceful atmosphere and educational opportunities where I could manifest this heartfelt dream. Navigating through new landscapes opened my eyes to the widespread  issue of homelessness which influenced me to uplift others when they are down. This has allowed me to understand that the precious lives of each human being are blank pages waiting to be written on. Each time I traveled, my passion of compassion unraveled. Once I relocated from my hometown, San Clemente, California, to the Big Island, I knew that Hilo was indeed the place to call “home.” Learning the importance of shedding light on the virtue of embracing the rainbow of cultural diversity at UH Hilo has made my heart overflow with immense gratitude since this experience will someday assist me in helping people from all walks of life.

Despite having high functioning autism, I had to work very hard during the course of my schooling. My ambitious persistence served as a stepping stone for my transition from being in the special education department in elementary school to graduating as a valedictorian at Hilo High School. Once I transformed myself, I strived to transform others. From that point on, I realized that my quest here on Earth is to become a clinical psychologist. In order to pursue my ultimate career goal in addition to being an author, I will complete my B.A. in Psychology at UH Hilo in two years. Thereafter, I aspire to obtain a M.A. in Counseling and a PsyD in Clinical Psychology as I embark on my exciting journey of altruism. This will guide me to my higher purpose of being a moral compass with the mission of inspiring people to heal their psychological wounds as they achieve spiritual wholeness. It is my aspiration to listen to the whispers of a person’s soul and help him or her alleviate unwanted symptoms by using patience and wisdom as the most revitalizing forms of healing.

Humankind’s survival is so dependent on the hospitality of other sentient beings that a vital need for loving-kindness lies at the central core of our existence. Thus, one interesting aspect about myself is that I recently founded the Angelsberg Foundation, a non-profit organization, in order to provide free access to psychiatric services, life-coaching, rehabilitation programs, food, clothing, and other key necessities for homeless individuals who suffer from trauma, substance use disorders, and mental illness. By giving homeless individuals in Los Angeles, Waikiki, and Hilo care packages and taking the time to listen to their life-stories, I found myself by losing myself in the altruistic service of others. I also take their portraits and compose poetry to open humanity’s eyes that these individuals are not invisible. To gain awareness about the epidemic of homelessness, please take a look at my corresponding  photography and peruse my free-verse, “Invisible,” from Stepping Out of the Spiritual Closet:

Invisible

“Invisible” (Echo Park, Los Angeles)

“Invisible” (Echo Park, Los Angeles)   

“The Power of Love” (Hilo, HI)

“The Power of Love” (Hilo, HI)

Can you hear the crying echo
Of the hoary-headed homeless lady
Reverberate across the superficial soulless streets
Of Echo Park? No black and white cars
Imprisoned in un-enlightenment’s dark abyss
Refusing to look down at her frown
From elevated tinted windshields barred
That shield them against the injustice of poverty
Stop to park their mechanical detention cells
And see if she’s dying slowly with her withering body
Crouched lowly on a crosswalk
Where no one takes time to talk
To this woman dressed in cloaked gray garbs
Invisible as a ghost.
A pedestrian in a prison-striped T-shirt
Ignores sadness singing masked out by the phone ringing
The sound of his heart that’s hard
Like the cold cement pavement.
Liberate yourself from the enslavement
Of ignorance by not showing
Blindness to human kindness.
Remove the blindfold from your eyes
And awaken to end suffering.

From this poem, you can see that the homeless have a powerful voice that must be heard. Our utmost responsibility is to not ignore the suffering of others by radiating the compassionate light of divine love through positive vibes. No human being should be left behind. Overall, the instillment of inner-strength within myself led to my goal of cultivating resilience and hope in each wounded person’s spirit who comes my way thus far as a student. Even though there are still countless struggling people in this world, I can start by making a difference, one person at a time.

Braden Savage

Braden Savage

English student from Arizona shares his personal journey at UH Hilo

Braden Savage
Degree: English
High School: Homeschooled
Hometown City/State: Show Low, Arizona


How do you think your friends and family would describe you?

Ah. Let’s see. Good job, Braden, starting with the hardest question. Way to go. I guess I see myself as a go-getter, a think-outside-the-box-er, a questioner of what the worth really is of thinking outside the box… but does that show? Do people, the people I’m closest to, see me and think, Yes, there’s Braden, the go-getting questioner of box-breaking-thinking? Yes, maybe, maybe, maybe. In general, though, people say I’m quiet. And ambitious, or gentle, if they know me well enough.

Why did you choose to attend UH Hilo?
I didn’t want to attend university. No, sir. I was going to be a stick-your-hands-in-the-air-and-do-what-you-want famous-before-the-age-of-twenty writer who didn’t have anything to do with that. I would be Ray Bradbury. Cormac McCarthy. Both. I was afraid that if I went to university, my spirits would be dampened, my ambitions hit over the head until they were square and breathless, like frogs corralled into an aquarium. Can you see them pawing at the glass? I could. I wanted to show the world that Braden Savage could make it on his own – that I was self-made, homeschooled, writer-since-the-age-of-seven, and didn’t need any instruction to lead me to success.

My sister, who was attending UH Hilo at the time, took a creative writing class and came home with the news of writing contests and a creative writing certificate. I mumbled and grumbled and griped and moaned, and eventually, after justifying to myself so many times that I already knew what I was doing, that I would just be going in for one year to improve the skills I already had, I signed up as a student at UH Hilo. I took all the classes I needed to earn my creative writing certificate within the first year, then I stood at the brink of summer, blinking like something that had emerged from a cave after too long smudging around for bugs. I had taken the classes, sure, and I had earned the certificate… but what was that inside of me? Yes, I still believed my conviction from before, that I was improving skills I already had – building up who I wanted to become in order to pursue my passion – but it had been so much different from the in-and-out, here-are-the-classes, take-them, finish-them, thank-you-very-much entrance and exit that I had expected. I had met beautiful people and had been taught beautiful things that I had never known before. I had faced what I didn’t know with terror, then acceptance, then excitement, and as I teetered on the summer, gulping back the warm embers of the last year, I started to feel as though I couldn’t go without it. The social atmosphere, the environment of learning, the clubs, the late nights sitting out on the benches in front of the library, chatting with friends I hadn’t known four months earlier… it had become a part of me. Just as much as the drive to pursue my passion.

What is a typical day like for you?
Is “typical” how walking through the garage in the dark somehow feels more important than walking through it when it’s light? Sitting beside a river in Colorado and thinking, just because it’s my birthday, maybe I’ll meet my future wife in the restaurant we’re going to that night? Leaving UH Hilo’s theater at night after standing in a circle of my closest friends and screaming at nothing just to dispel the energy we’re holding? Standing on a beach and watching how long it takes a footprint to be erased? Chilling on the third-floor lanai of Campus Center at night and watching the campus patched with mellow orange light like cooling metal? These moments happen often, and some of them might not happen again, but I don’t think in either case they’re typical. They’re like rubber balls in constant motion. This day, I scream in the circle. Flip. This day, I hardly make a noise.

How does UH Hilo connect learning, life and aloha?
I’d just finished my first semester at UH Hilo, and I was talking to some visiting family members over winter break 2018. The conversation turned to my course-load for the Spring semester, and when they heard that I was taking four writing-intensive classes at once, there was a bit of a draw-in-the-breath, nervous-chuckle, If-you-really-think-you-can-do-it undertone in how they responded. I was fine with it, just fine… Really.

Over the next few weeks of these reactions repeating, however, I started to think: Will it be fine? I began to imagine the opposite of my smooth-sailing first semester: I would flip and flop through a few weeks of the Spring, then I would start forgetting to do certain assignments, then I would have to drop out and work at Wal-Mart for the rest of my life. My mind wrung its fingers over and over during the first week of class… How many presentations do I have to do this semester? I have to do a public reading? And TEACH A CLASS? I couldn’t do it. I told my parents I’d taken on too much, that I was going to burn out. They told me to stick with it. I nearly ran off when, on my first day of Playwriting class, we had to stand in front of the class and act. I couldn’t do it. I kept saying it. I couldn’t. I couldn’t.

A few weeks passed. I gave my first presentation, and it was, surprisingly, to a room of friends (or at least acquaintances, by then). I started to draft out the lesson-plan for the class I had to teach, and I discovered that, even though I was the only freshman in that class, everyone else was nervous as well. And this was acknowledged. Stressed over, sure. But also laughed at. Discussed after class like it was the upcoming episode of a show we were following.

Sure, yeah, If-you-think-you-can-do-it helps, but sometimes that’s not all that it takes. I didn’t think that I would end up in UH Hilo’s Drama Club at the end of the semester when, unexpectedly, I realized I enjoyed acting in Playwriting. I didn’t think I would end up sitting at a table in the UH Hilo cafeteria, having a sandwich with an author from Wyoming whose book I’d picked up only a few months earlier (or that we would remain correspondents afterwards). I didn’t think that, at the end of that supposedly insurmountable semester, I would feel a sense of loss, similar to when my best friend moved away when I was eleven. Wait, but you’re leaving already? That’s right.

There’s so much more to the university experience than the work that you do. It might look scary at first – Oh, lord, how’m I gonna that? – but keep in mind that the small human moments aren’t written into the course descriptions. Oh, look, now I’m in class with a group of fellow writers. Oh, look, now we’re all upstairs in my office, laughing and sharing a box of homemade cookies. I wonder what’ll happen next.

What are your favorite memories at UH Hilo?
It makes you feel so important to have a headset on and a green-blinking monitor strapped to your hip as you run backstage in the theater, moving from stage right to stage left like a busy ghost. Then, you hand a prop to an actor, or you push a platform onto the stage.

You settle into a chair in the English Department hallway, and it’s nothing spectacular, really – a chair you could find anywhere – but it feels like an armchair at a family-member’s house, especially when the whole faculty is gathered there for a potluck and is seated around you, pulling you into the conversation like you were indistinguishable from the rest of them.

The first time you open up the magazine you’ve put a year’s work into compiling, the crinkle-spread of the pages sounds like seed-pods exploding in the summer. The stories and pictures you spent nights and days scrutinizing over, now preserved on the glossy pages, look like pleasant bugs sealed under amber. And finally, when you set those issues out on the stands, they sit like eager pups in a shop window, waiting to see what owners will come to claim them.

Oh, there’s also that time when you direct one of your own plays, and you stand behind the stage, listening as much to the audience as to the actors.

Or that time when no one can stop laughing in your writing group, and Professor Panek has to read the page that you’re all stuck on, and the way he reads it makes it somehow even funnier.

And how about that time you’re asked in your Listening class to peel a tangerine for half-an-hour and by the end, you actually start to think, People are like tangerines, people are like tangerines…

Or how about the time…

Or the other time…

Or the other time…

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 everyday. 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 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.”