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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 24, 2001

UH graduates face a changed world

By Walter Wright
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawai'i's Miss America Angela Baraquio yesterday told graduating University of Hawai'i seniors — as she has told her own elementary school students — that they were like the jewels in her crown, each one different, some small, some large, but all part of the beautiful whole.

Michel Cherry, right, photographs friend Margie Pamintuan on his digital camera during UH commencement ceremonies at Stan Sheriff Center. Both are broadcast journalism majors.

Deborah Booker • The Honolulu Advertiser

University Regent Sharon Weiner shared — as she does with anyone who graduates from anything — the "What Places You'll Go" rhymes from Dr. Seuss:

"With banner flip-flapping
Once more you'll ride high
Ready for anything under the sky
Ready because you're that kind of a guy!"

And there was the usual contingent of yellow happy faces grinning from the tops of scores of mortarboards among the 600 graduates in Stan Sheriff Center for mid-year commencement.

It appeared, though, that speakers and graduates alike were seeking some comfortable space in a world affected by Sept. 11.

Ioane Tomanogi, 23, of American Samoa, who wore a mortarboard with a dove on top, said his plans had "definitely" been changed by Sept. 11. The dove was not for peace, but for the spirit of God, Tomanogi said — not a new notion with him. What was new, he said, was his decision to return to American Samoa to teach.

"I was going to stay back and take a graduate degree, go for my master's," said Tomanogi, who received a bachelor of science degree yesterday. "But because of what happened, I decided to go home and be with my family and spend time with them, because things like this can really take them away."

Plans had changed, too, for information technology graduate Ryan Imamoto, wearing a flag patch on his black graduation gown.

"I wanted to say something, especially with all that's happened," the 24-year-old from Hawai'i Kai said of the patch. "With some people wearing the flag on their uniforms, it just seemed fitting to wear it at graduation."

Sept. 11 "made me see life as more valuable," he said.

It also reinforced his decision to stay in Hawai'i and pursue a graduate degree instead of going to San Jose, Calif., to work, he said.

"It made me want to do something, to leave a mark in my life, more than just routine," he said.

Baraquio, herself a graduate of the university, said Sept. 11 taught her never to take anyone for granted. She said she would get a graduate degree in Hawai'i and continue her career in education.

Won Jik Bae, 25, said he was motivated toward his degree in history not by the violence of the terrorist attacks, but by the pointless violence of his youth as a gang member.

Bae, who immigrated from Korea when he was 7, said he had joined a gang "to fit in" and immediately became involved in battles with a rival gang, using violence as a way to gain respect from others.

They fought "with anything," and Bae once was hospitalized after gang members jumped him.

"When I think about it now, it just kind of chills me," he said. "When I look back now, I say that wasn't me, it was some other factor working against me."

Mike Solomon clapped an arm around his shoulder.

"He's my main man, the only one of the gang that graduated from university," he said.

"You mean the first one," said Sid Rosen, head of Adult Friends for Youth, which helps gang members outgrow violent ways.

"Won Jik is one of the strong ones," Rosen said. "We have others in the pipeline, but unquestionably the first is the sweetest. He's a beacon for others. He used his opportunity wisely."

Reach Walter Wright at 525-8054 or at wwright@honoluluadvertiser.com