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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 13, 2006

Three members of family to graduate from WCC

 •  High school graduation ceremonies
 •  Commencement schedule begins Friday for UH system

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Lei Laimana, at far left in green shirt, was so inspired by learning the Hawaiian language at Windward Community College, she hosted a class in her home. She, her husband and their son graduate today.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Lei Laimana and husband, John Jr., will receive their diplomas from Windward Community College today, along with their son, Jerom. At one point, 10 members of their ‘ohana were attending college.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Windward Community College graduation ceremony

When: 1 p.m. today

Where: Paliku Theatre on campus

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KANE'OHE — When Jamie Walk decided to return to school in 2003, she thought the best way to further her education was with family at her side.

But she also knew that if she talked to the Laimana clan as a group, there was no way they'd join her at Windward Community College.

So she tricked them.

She talked to each individually, telling her dad that grandma was signing up or her mom that dad had decided to go. One by one, they all agreed.

Lei Laimana, Walk's mother, says her daughter fooled them 2 1/2 years ago and the family is better off for it. Back then, 10 family members — grandma, dad, mom, auntie, brother, cousins — were at WCC, including the ones she tricked.

Today, the Laimana family reaches a milestone in its members' education when three graduate from WCC. They'll celebrate the accomplishments and share more laughs about how Walk not only fooled them, but opened their eyes.

"They're happier," Walk said. "They have goals now. Not that they didn't have goals before, but my mom wants to open up her own business. My dad wants to finish school. My brother wants to get a B.A. in mathematics or teach Hawaiian language.

"It just seems like everybody is going somewhere."

Dad John Laimana Jr., 53, mom Lei Laimana, 51, and brother Jerom Laimana, 21, will graduate today. Jerom Laimana is now attending Brigham Young University-Hawai'i, but because WCC only has one graduation ceremony a year, he had to wait.

Walk, 23, is taking a break after giving birth to a boy two weeks ago. Grandma, who is caring for her husband, who suffered a stroke three years ago, is still taking classes and could graduate next year. Auntie Lynnette Laimana, 42, graduated from WCC and is now at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, where she is studying psychology, and she's also attending Chaminade University studying behavioral science. Cousin Leimomi Barrows got her associate's degree and is in nursing school. Cousin Shyla Kamaunu is attending Maui Community College part time. And cousins Bethny and Maegan Laimana are working.

"In this household, it's all about support," said grandma Jane Laimana, 77. "For me, the family is everything. When she pushed me into it, it was kind of to help her in school and encourage her. So I could do a little bit but, in the long run, I benefited the most, I think."

The Laimanas went to college to learn to speak Hawaiian, something Walk thought could bring the family together as basketball used to do when she and her siblings were younger.

Walk said she knew that her family held some interest in college when she talked to them individually and they didn't say no right away. But she said she also knew if she broached the subject when they were all together, they would find some excuse to shut her down.

Walk's mom said the family agreed to go, but only if Walk applied for all of them, registered them and got financial aid.

Lei Laimana said she was apprehensive about returning to college because she would have to juggle work at King Intermediate School, family obligations, and school schedule — she has seven children. But everything fell into place.

Classes at WCC brought the family together and also gave them new friends, including young people, Lei Laimana said. Teachers were flexible and interested in ensuring success, she said, adding that they even let her mother-in-law bring her father-in-law to language classes since he couldn't be left alone because of stroke complications.

"I'm glad she pushed us through and got us all going because we have fun," she said.

"This has been a good part of our life. We made new friends. We got a little bit smarter."

Liko Hoe, 31, one of the Laimanas' Hawaiian-language teachers, said that he had several Laimanas in his first- and second-year courses and that their presence brought a family influence to the class, which he liked.

"One of the best things is they are able to support each other in class and outside, too," Hoe said. "I think that's a good model for other families.

"I'd like to see other families do things like that, too."

John Laimana Jr. said he was impressed with the interaction between students and faculty.

Laimana said he didn't mind being tricked into going back to school because he had always wanted to learn to speak Hawaiian and find out about Island history that would be totally different from what he had been taught when growing up.

He spends most of his time coaching basketball at Kane'ohe District Park and tutoring. Once a waterproofing contractor, Laimaina said he's not looking for a new career as he pursues his education at UH.

"I'm just following the flow and right now it just feels good that I should be in Hawaiian studies," he said. "I'm also studying economics. I don't know where that's going to take me but it seems that at each level, I can see 'OK this is where I'm going to go next.' As long as I can afford it, I'm going to continue even to graduate school."

Affording college for five people in their immediate family was a hurdle, but Auntie Lynnette said she learned about scholarships from WCC advisers, who where able to get scholarships for the entire family.

"It's really unreal when you find a school that is behind you and your family 100 percent in helping you to achieve goals you never could fit in before because you're living daily life," she said. "They made it so simple."

Having family attend college with you also made education easier, said Jerom Laimana. From rides to school to covering material when you missed classes, they were helpful with homework and keeping up with studies, he said.

"It brought us closer," he said. "We learned each other's habits. We just helped each other out.

"It was good and people should try it."

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.