'You can ... do so much'
by Suzanne Roig
Advertiser Staff Writer
Today's college graduates need imagination and a sense of service to the community as they take that first step from the protected walls of academia to their future.
Those were the words of advice that Maya Soetoro-Ng gave yesterday to the 1,600 undergraduates at the 99th annual University of Hawai'i-Mānoa commencement exercises.
Soetoro-Ng, sister of President Obama, said she recognized several former students from her teaching days at the University Laboratory School as she looked out over the sea of eager faces yesterday.
Upon first being invited to speak, Soetoro-Ng said she didn't feel qualified. But she realized that this commencement was personal for her.
"You can be anything you want to be," Soetoro-Ng said. "My charge and question to you today is hopefully quite clear by now: What are you going to do to shine light on more of the world's shadows? What else are you going to do to improve your community?"
There was hardly a vacant seat yesterday morning at the 10,000-seat Stan Sheriff Center. Well-wishers carried in bags of lei and other graduation mementoes to bestow on the undergraduates after the ceremony, which included naming each graduate. Later, an estimated 800 students were given their graduate degrees.
Cameras flashed, thumbs flew over keyboards, texting between family and friends and graduates. Some graduates decorated their green caps with letters, others with an image of their career choice — a blackboard and apple for teachers, a nurse's white cap for nursing. Dental students wore toothbrushes around their necks.
Before the ceremony, Alexis Jamison stood in a long line of green cap- and gown-clad students waiting to start the processional. She said graduation was not only exciting but symbolic of the start of her life as an adult and as an early childhood education major.
"We've been working toward this for so long," Jamison said. "It's kind of like what do I do now? Today is actually kind of surreal."
While the economy continues to sputter along and companies are still loath to add staff, graduates remained hopeful that they will be able to pursue their version of the American Dream.
"I hope to go to the police department," said Devin Yamada, a Kāne'ohe resident who majored in psychology. "I already applied. I'm stoked, man."
James Haynes II, a member of the UH Board of Regents, said that despite the struggling economy the university continued to grow and weather many changes.
"You have completed all the requirements of a bachelor's degree, which is no small feat," Haynes told graduates. "I wish you best of luck in your chosen fields."
Soetoro-Ng, who also was the commencement speaker for the graduate ceremony, said her brother should be used as a model for overcoming adversity and seeing what you can accomplish if you put your mind to it.
"Times are tough for many of you today," Soetoro-Ng said. "Even if you can't do everything you want, you can certainly do so much. You as individuals. You graduates of the University of Hawai'i have much to teach the rest of the world about peaceful coexistence and about aloha."