Over 90 UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College student volunteers welcomed 130 local high school students to the UH Hilo campus for some inspiration and motivation to graduate and seriously consider future goals.
Mitch Roth, prosecuting attorney and head law enforcement officer for the County of Hawai‘i, says Pacific Islander Youth Career Day, held last month at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, was one of the greatest accomplishments of his office since becoming prosecutor. The Office of the Prosecutor was one of the sponsors of the event, where over 90 UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College student volunteers welcomed 130 local high school students to the UH Hilo campus for some inspiration and motivation to graduate and seriously consider future goals.
Roth says it was an exciting thing to watch: students from different islands connecting with each other, bonding, “like a family.” He watched students from different islands, backgrounds and ancestry discover they have much in common — they are Pacific Islanders strongly connected to their ancestral homeland, but more than that, they are Pacific Islanders with a strong connection to Hawai‘i as well.
“College students took ownership of the event,” says Roth, “connected with the high school (students), and showed them the impossible is possible.”
The annual event is part of the Pacific Youth Empowerment for Success community outreach activity done through UH Hilo’s Pacific Islander Student Center. By bringing Pacific Islander high school students to campus to spend a day with UH Hilo and Hawai‘i Community College students from their respective language and cultural groups, the organizers hope to inspire, inform, and motivate the high school students to follow in their “elders” footsteps to college and career. This is the second conference bringing high school youth to campus for a daylong series of workshops, forums, talks, and engagement with college students.
“We engage our college students to serve as role models of success for the Pacific Islander students in local high schools,” says Vidalino Raatior, director of UH Hilo’s Pacific Islander Student Center.
Students who host and attend the annual event are from the Pacific Island regions of Sāmoa, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Guam, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as well as students of Pacific Island ethnicities who are US citizens, US nationals, or permanent residents who grew up outside of the island.
The day-long youth empowerment conference was sponsored by Micronesians United – Big Island, the County of Hawai‘i Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, and UH Hilo’s Pacific Islander Student Center. County of Hawai‘i Councilperson Greggor Ilagan, the Department of Education, and over 20 other sponsors from local organizations, businesses, schools, and agencies also pitched in.
Inspired by the Pacific Islander ancestral culture of celestial navigation, the theme of the day was “Navigating Success,” focusing on the need for youth to continue to be inspired to persevere in making right and courageous decisions to continue on a path of success.
“In keeping with the theme, we gave each of the students a star and told them to reach high,” says Roth. “We told them, ‘If you are going to reach for the stars, you need to know where you are going.’”
- See full catalog of photos of the 2014 Pacific Islander Youth Career Day on the Pacific Islander Student Center’s Facebook page.
The conference was held on the annual national Make A Difference Day, Oct. 25, 2014 as a way for Hilo’s Pacific Islander college students to be involved in community service, especially as role models for students from the local high schools who are of Pacific Island ethnicities. The number of college volunteers doubled this year compared to last year.
“It’s been a real pleasure to work with Mitch and our other community partners in the efforts to engage our college students in the lives of our youth in the community,” says Raatiro. “I know Mitch and I share much in common, to inspire our Pacific Islander youth in Hawai‘i to become successful members of society so they don’t end up in the criminal justice system.”
Roth says he’s already looking forward to doing it again next year.
“The students were from all different islands,” he says, “but they got together, stepped up to the challenge, and dreamed for their future.”
A theme song for the conference was created and produced by Pacific Islander college students (listen in the video at the top of the post). Here are the lyrics:
We are one people, many cultures
We are one ocean, many islands
We wish no other home than ours.
Our differences enrich us,
Our islands sustain us,
Our ocean binds us together.
Having displaced no one, we welcome you,
Having been divided, we seek unity,
Having been ruled, we seek freedom.
Together, we renew,
Our hearts with love,
Together, we renew,
Our minds and soul,
To be ourselves,
To live in harmony.
About the writer of this story: Susan Enright is a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.