The word "commencement" has two meanings - a ceremony in which degrees or diplomas are conferred on graduating students is one, but it can also mean a beginning, start or launch.
All those definitions apply to this year's commencement on May 18, which will launch University of Hawaii Maui College and University of Hawaii Center Maui graduates in a unique joint ceremony.
It's the first time the two commencement ceremonies will be combined, an initiative that began with an attempt to solve the kind of problem every college hopes for - the need to accommodate more graduates.
The number of UH-Maui College degrees granted has increased 65 percent since 2009, when the total number was 364.
Last year, the college reached a record high of 601 degrees awarded.
With the large number of degrees awarded, seats were limited during last year's UH-MC Commencement Ceremony held indoors at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Each graduate could only invite a maximum of five family members. During the course of exploring other venues for 2014, expanding outdoors appeared to be the best solution and the most inclusive - under the Yokouchi Pavilion and in the A&B Amphitheater. This area also could accommodate the UH-MC as well as the University of Hawaii Center Maui graduates and families to celebrate commencement at the same time.
"There's a breadth of opportunities for higher education here on Maui, and having a combined commencement for both UH-MC and the UH Center illustrates just what's available to our community," said Maui College Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Cathy Bio. "It also shows the continuum from associate's degree to master's degree, which will inspire students to consider all their degree options."
Through Maui College, students can pursue 19 associate degrees as well as three bachelor's of applied science degrees in applied business and information technology, sustainable science management and engineering technology. The Maui-based UH Center offers distance-learning degrees from UH Manoa, UH Hilo and UH West Oahu, expanding opportunities for Maui County residents.
Through the UH Center, residents can choose from an additional 19 bachelor's degree programs in fields like business, education, nursing, public administration and social sciences, and master's degrees from 14 different programs that include human resource management, library and information science, and social work.
"We're excited at the prospect of a combined commencement," said UH Center Director Karen Hanada. "It's important that Maui County residents understand their options when it comes to choosing a degree path, and not everyone can or wants to leave Maui County to pursue their higher education. The UH Center offers our community the chance to work, meet their family obligations and still reach their academic goals."
This year's graduates are excited that there isn't a limit to the number of family and friends they can invite to watch them receive their degrees.
"With the tremendous growth over the years, we have outgrown the Castle Theater. Having the A&B Amphitheater will allow both UH-Maui College and the University Center to hold a combined ceremony that accommodates all graduates and their supporters," said Student Life Coordinator Francine Ching.
Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui is scheduled to present the commencement address. The UH-MC & UH Center Commencement will begin at 4:30 p.m. May 18 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center A&B Amphitheater. Doors will open at 3:35 p.m. Tickets will not be required for attendance, seating will be on a first-come, first-served basis, and weather will not delay or halt commencement ceremonies. But we're hoping for a cool afternoon to recognize and congratulate our graduates.
* Clyde Sakamoto is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. Ka'ana Mana'o means "sharing thoughts." It appears on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and provides Maui County residents with information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.