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.