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HCC students celebrate graduation with drive-thru event

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Yoshitusugu Nitto gives a thumbs-up before getting his degree during a drive-thru commencement at Hawaii Community College on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Members of Unukupukupu, the hula halau of HCC, perform a kipaepae at Hawaii Community College on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Shyanne Hall receives a lei after graduating from Hawaii Community College during a drive-thru commencement on Friday.

  • Kelsey Walling/Tribune-Herald Jodi Kauhi waves a shaka before getting her degree during the Hawaii Community College drive-thru commencement on Friday.

About 100 Hawaii Community College students and their supporters celebrated graduation Friday morning during a drive-thru ceremony.

HCC expects to graduate 536 students who earned 691 degrees and certificates this academic year. The class of 2020 was invited to attend the drive-thru ceremony because their graduation was canceled due to COVID-19.

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The event began with a welcome from Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas and a kipaepae ceremony conducted by members of Unukupukupu, the hula halau of HCC.

“Congratulations to all our graduates and their families,” Solemsaas said during the ceremony. “Despite the incredible challenges they faced this past year, these talented and hardworking students have followed through, completed their studies, and set themselves up for success in the next phases of their journey.”

After the original COVID-19 stay-at-home order shuttered all public colleges in March 2020, many students have had to spend a majority of their tenure at HCC working from home.

“The transition to fully online classes was very stressful for me,” Laney-Rae Pau said. “I have children of my own, so making sure they attended school while I was worried about school was not easy.”

When the pandemic closed HCC, Pau had to quit an internship so she could stay home and watch her children.

“With everything going on, my teachers were very flexible with me and understood why I had to quit,” Pau said. “They found a way for me to make up the credit, which was so nice.”

Pau graduated with an associate’s degree in business technology and wants to find a job that will allow her to work remotely.

“Part of my degree actually focused on doing work over the computer remotely,” Pau said. “It was interesting timing that I had to learn how to manage that during my time in school.”

Kyoto Yumura moved to Hilo from Japan to attend HCC for its Hawaiian Studies program. When the pandemic hit, she found it difficult to keep up from home.

“It was difficult when I couldn’t work with classmates anymore, and it was hard to keep my motivation up,” Yumura said.

Yumura ended up completing her online classes back in Japan, but came back to Hilo about a month ago.

“I’m happy to be back, it feels like I’ve come back home,” Yumura said. “I’m excited to graduate, but I’m not sure what to do just yet.”

Brylee Eliana received an associate’s degree in early childhood education, but had to miss out on some in-person labs while working on her degree.

“We did our labs virtually, and it was difficult to get through that,” Eliana said. “I do get to work at the (HCC) children’s center, so I’ve been able to actually work with kids.”

Jana Smith is one of the instructors with the early childhood education program and had to reformat many of her classes during the pandemic.

“I spent all last summer converting two of our very interactive classes to an online format,” Smith said. “It was hard to do, but I also sent kits home and had guest speakers. I think it mostly worked out for us.”

Brenda Asagra was excited to graduate with her associate’s in accounting, but she was disappointed that she spent most of her time in school on the computer.

“It was just harder to learn and to constantly look at a screen,” Asagra said. “I do better with face-to-face learning, but the program itself was a good experience.”

Throughout the day, students smiled through their masks as they accepted their degrees and waved to instructors while passing by in their cars.

Some graduates decorated their cars for a contest and dressed up to commemorate their special day.

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“We wanted to make sure the students from 2021 and 2020 had a venue to be able to celebrate their accomplishments,” Solemsaas said. “Their resiliency and fortitude is what made this all possible.”

Email Kelsey Walling at kwalling@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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