Graduating from the University of Hawaii Maui College on Saturday meant the world to graphic design student Mark Cabalse.
“This graduation, in particular, is a milestone, not just for me, but for my family, as I am a first-generation student,” said Cabalse, who is one of the very first graduates of the new Academy for Creative Media, a new art school within UH-MC that offers associate degrees in creative media, film and graphic design.
Last year, UH-Maui was the only campus in the UH system to hold an in-person graduation and scheduled two ceremonies to safely welcome graduates and onlookers. This year, the college held an opening ceremony with no spectator limit. It was the first since the pandemic without state and county COVID-19 restrictions, which were mostly lifted in March.
“The graduates were thrilled. People in the audience were thrilled,” UH-Maui Chancellor Lui Hokoana said Sunday. “It was fine to get us back on track for what the new normal would look like, and yet there can still be that face-to-face interaction that I think everyone’s been dreaming of.”
Hokoana said of the 603 UH-Maui graduates and 98 University Center graduates (students living on Maui and taking classes through UH-Manoa and UH-West Oahu), about 258 attended Saturday’s ceremony in person. The increase in graduate numbers from previous years was a positive sign for the college, which had about 700 graduates before COVID-19 but then saw its number drop to about 500 during the pandemic, Hokoana said. He added that the college had made around 3,000 chairs available for members of the public and they were all full.
For graduates, Saturday was an opportunity to celebrate their achievements despite the pandemic.
“I learned a lot of valuable things at UH-MC and one of those things is to have confidence in yourself and to stay really true to your ideas because growing up I was really shy and reserved and I didn’t trust me and my work”, Cabalse said Wednesday afternoon before the start. “UH-MC truly taught that you have to value your work, keep improving, and you will achieve the goal you want to achieve.”
This graduation is especially special for the family, he said, explaining how his parents emigrated with him and his younger siblings from the Philippines in 2005 to pursue more opportunities in the United States, before moving on. settling in Maui.
“Growing up, I loved doing arts and crafts. I had coloring books, I had lots of sketchbooks that my mom would buy and I would draw,” he said, adding that he explored things like painting and ceramics at Maui Waena Intermediate before pursuing digital art at Maui High School, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2019. “I loved being creative.”
Although his parents were initially hesitant about their son’s career choice, encouraging him instead to choose the path of a doctor or a lawyer, for example, they learned more about what graphic designers do and understood Cabalse’s deep passion for it.
“It wasn’t that popular stuff – you know what a doctor does, you know what an engineer does – but now they know more about it. I taught them things about what they do, so now they are super supportive,” he said. “I showed them my work throughout my university years and they were impressed. They were really excited, especially when I showed them my full-fledged T-shirt that I designed.
Starting out as a freelancer, Cabalse hopes to one day open his own graphic design business near his home, specializing in logo design and branding, as well as user interface design and web development.
“I really enjoyed working with my classmates and teachers. They have really become like family to me and get down to business with familiar faces,” he said. “It was like we were working at a design company and we were at work and they were my colleagues, so that was pretty cool.”
Hokoana said during the start of the school year on Saturday that students have experienced sudden changes in their schedules, lesson formats and rules and regulations throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but they still persevered to get their diplomas.
Among them was Alec Bayer, who graduated top of his class in UH-MC’s Applied Business and Information Technology program.
“It was a different experience. I missed some of the in-person classes, but there were definitely some classes where it was nice to be on Zoom too,” Bayer noted. “You don’t know your classmates as much as you used to. That being said, I appreciate the simplicity of not having to be on campus at a certain time – there was a lot more range. It also opened the doors to a lot more guest speakers and things like that, so I think there were definitely a lot of good aspects to Zoom and allowing classes to do different things.
Through it all, Bayer said that “I had a lot of times at UH-Maui that I enjoyed.”
Having already completed two years of study under the Texas-based Lone Star College system after completing its homeschooling high school program in 2013, Bayer said he was “super rush” to life after college as he seeks career opportunities with nonprofits in Hawaii.
“I like to work for causes that I feel are beneficial to the community”, he said. “So I will explore jobs that work with people in a beneficial way. I just want to see what happens and keep my mind open, and see where it takes me. I’m sure I will do many different things in life.
Media student Noah Dods Medeiros also received his degree on Saturday.
At first he feared the entire event would be virtual like in previous years amid the pandemic, but was then pleased to learn that he could be joined by his Oahu and Maui family members in a ceremony. in person where was appointed “Most Outstanding Film Student.”
“During the pandemic, I didn’t have as many in-person classes as I would have, but even though I was in that situation, being online, I still felt like I learned a lot and I took a lot of things away and I definitely came away with a lot more knowledge about my interests,” the St. Anthony grad said last week. “I’ve had a long interest in expressing a story on a screen for an audience and having some sort of emotional impact on those people, so that’s kind of what I’m trying to do right now. .”
One experience that stood out the most for him was working on a television production as an assistant director, saying that “It was the highlight of my time at UH-MC.”
Medeiros, along with Cabalse, will continue their education at UH-West Oahu to complete a four-year Bachelor of Arts degree.
Born and raised in Maui, Medeiros plans to explore opportunities in Hawaii before branching out to the mainland. Producing or directing your own film one day would be “make my world” he said.
As graduates enter the next stage of their lives, Executive Chef Kyle Kawakami, former UH-MC culinary instructor and now owner of the Maui Fresh Street Food Truck, shared five tips for success: find a mentor, create a plan of action, chasing dreams over money, being a teacher and giving back to the community.
“One of the best things you can do to ensure success in your chosen field is to find a mentor,” said Kawakami, who delivered the keynote address on Saturday.
Early in his culinary career, Kawakami “was lucky to find” a mentor to the late Chief Tylun Pang, who was to deliver the keynote address but died days before, Kawakami said.
“To this day, his advice and actions guide my many daily activities,” he said. “You all now possess a certain set of specialist skills, which together make up the fabric of our island community. . . . As you establish yourself in your respective fields, remember your roots and the community that created you.
* Dakota Grossman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.