Early Christmas for UH graduates


POSTED: Sunday, December 20, 2009

Viliami Nauahi made his mark on the University of Hawaii football field as a linebacker, but yesterday the beaming audience of 25 family members that surrounded him cheered him for being “;the first of my family to get a degree,”; he said.

“;I knew I'd finish; I had to finish. I wanted to be an example to my little brother, who's 13,”; said Nauahi, who worked full-time as a Polynesian dancer in Waikiki to finance a bachelor degree in communications.

The Nauahi family and thousands of others gathered at UH-Manoa yesterday to offer congratulations to 1,600 graduates following the fall commencement ceremonies.

Graduate Jeremy Shibata said he will use his business degree to set up a restaurant serving recipes from his mother, grandmothers and aunts—all good cooks and bakers.

The death of his grandmother, Clara Sodetani, “;kick-started a drive (for me) to get to culinary school and have a restaurant for the family. I want both sides of the family to come and say: 'This is Clara's mango pie,' “; or relish another relative's dish, he said.

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Grandparents James and Harriet Shibata of Kaimuki eagerly waited for him at the auditorium door, their eyes searching for his face among the tide of graduates. Leis in hand, they couldn't stop smiling in anticipation. Other relatives came from the mainland to congratulate Jeremy, said brother Jonathan Shibata, who called his graduation “;a very good Christmas present.”;

Hooipo DeCambra's grandchildren held up a sign and cheered loudly from the balcony as she was handed her master's degree in social work. The Waianae resident has 14 grandchildren, and all but two came to see their grandmother graduate, said her daughter, Rhonda Villanueva.

The degree was especially treasured because DeCambra, 65, had to delay her schooling to take care of her husband, who died in August after battling cancer since January, Villanueva said.

“;She's determined and so smart. The degree is (to enable her to do) counseling in mental health. She's showing us that at any age, you can do it, you can get it done. She was always excited about school. She might surprise us by going for a doctorate.”;