The purpose of the yearly PacYES event is to motivate, inspire, and prepare high school students of Pacific Islander heritage for college and career opportunities as well as to foster cultural connections within their own communities.
By Neilynn Domnick.
The University of Hawai‘i at Hilo hosted the 10th Annual Pacific Youth Empowerment for Success (PacYES) conference earlier this month. The purpose of the yearly event is to motivate, inspire, and prepare high school students of Pacific Islander heritage for college and career opportunities as well as to foster cultural connections within their own communities.
Parents were also welcomed to attend this year’s event as they, too, need to understand the educational system and be acquainted with some of the service providers. More than 100 parents and both intermediate and high school aged students of Pacific Islander heritage participated.
PacYES used to be known as Pacific Islander Youth Empowerment Day back when it started in 2010, sponsored by the County of Hawai‘i Office of the Prosecutor. The prosecutor at that time was Mitch Roth (now mayor of the county). Ever since then, it is only appropriate that he give the opening remarks or the closing remarks at each event. This year he gave the opening remarks, as he emphasized to the students to “Dream, Believe, Achieve.”
The PacYES organization committee decided that this year’s theme would be “Relaunching Our Canoe” as the organization transitions to an in-person format for the first time since COVID-19 restrictions. Fittingly, Tom Raffipiy, the keynote speaker, was recently awarded the prestigious rank of Pwo, Master Navigator. In order to remind the conference attendees that the Pacific Oceania binds the island cultures together, he emphasized that “the Ocean is the highway of our ancestors, it was their home and it is ours, too.”
The conference attendees participated in a variety of workshops over the course of two sessions after the entire group sang the unity anthem, “We Are Oceania” led by student Taecia Kukui Akana and alumna Kiasa Asinna Kanto. This was followed by a resource fair that featured programs and clubs from Hawai‘i Community College, UH Hilo, and a few community service providers.
The PacYES conference was run entirely by student volunteers; they were in charge of planning and carrying out the program. Student-volunteers also participated in a workshop called “Dream Big & Take Action” as panelists and inspirational speakers. Students speakers, Jorja Xavier, Kawika Duff, and Shania Tamagyongfal talked about the significance of setting ambitious goals and the pursuit of further education as a potential pathway to attain desirable careers during the workshop.
In keeping with the theme, Celeste Hao gave the closing remarks speaking about her voyaging journey as an apprentice navigator of the Hōkūle‘a voyaging canoe in 2014, back to her roots, to Samoa. Celeste also mentions that her roots are also here in UH Hilo where she studied and looked at stars and was a part of the student organization Tupulaga o Samoa that later performed a cultural dance after the Marshallese Iakwe Club modern-cultural performance.
PacYES is co-sponsored by UH Hilo and campus units Islands of Opportunity Alliance, Keaholoa STEM Scholars Program, Department of Anthropology, Pacific Islands Studies Certificate Program, and University Radio Hilo. Other UH partners include Hawai‘i Community College, UH Mānoa Center for the Advancement of Pacific Islander, East-West Center, and Pacific Islands Development Program (housed at the East-West Center). Other state support comes from Hawai‘i State Department of Education-Hawai‘i District (Hilo-Waiakea Complex Area, Kau-Keaau-Pahoa Complex Area), Office on Equality and Access to the Courts,
County of Hawai‘i support includes the Office of the Mayor, Office of the Prosecutor, and the Police Department.
Community support comes from We Are Oceania, Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, Pasefika Empowerment and Advancement Inc., Rotary Club of Hilo Bay, Kokua Services Partnership, One Stop Center for Micronesians on Hawai‘i Island, Candy Apple Bananas, Waiakea Hawaiian Volcanic Water, Micronesians United-Big Island, and the Stupski Foundation.
Story by Neilynn Domnick, UH Hilo alumna (communication, 2022) and outreach coordinator for PacYES.