Dreams come true for two recent UH-Maui College graduates


It is a rite of passage that takes place every spring in cities and towns from coast to coast. We commonly call it “graduation.” I prefer to call it by its “official” name — commencement. For it truly marks the beginning of a new life chapter for many thousands of students.

Late afternoon Thursday, May 9, turned into a beautiful Maui spring evening as we gathered on the University of Hawaii Maui College’s Great Lawn. In front of approximately 4,000 guests, we conferred degrees and certificates on 711 graduates, the most ever. Three hundred participated in the ceremony including 111 from our University Center (UH-West Oahu and UH-Manoa combined).

Commencement speaker Maui County Mayor Mike Victorino counseled our graduates to be good citizens, give back to their communities, and make the world a better place. We are optimistic they will do just that.

Every one of those 711 graduates has his or her own reason for pursuing higher education, each has his or her own story. We think these two are particularly compelling.

Originally from Kona, Carla Mae Bailey moved to Maui with her family in 2007. In 2012, after her children were grown and moving out, she decided to enroll at UH-MC. When she and her husband split up the following year, her college career was uncertain.

“I didn’t know how I would pay for it. I didn’t think I would qualify for aid but I went to financial aid office anyway. They encouraged me and helped me apply,” says Carla. She was thrilled when her award letter arrived — a Pell Grant for her first semester and then a Pell and a Native Hawaiian Grant for the following semester. “The grants covered my tuition, books, even some other expenses and I thought, ‘OK, one day I want to give back to this school.’ “

“Diana Kim from the UH Foundation took me to lunch and told me about a young woman who wasn’t able to apply for aid or scholarships because her parents wouldn’t provide their tax returns. That story touched me. So right there at lunch, I told her I wanted to start a scholarship. She started the paperwork right then and there.”

We were proud to confer on Carla Mae a bachelor’s degree in Applied Business and Information Technology, adding to the associates degree in accounting she already holds. She was just as proud to award the first annual Carla Mae Bailey Scholarship for New Beginnings.

“It’s administered by the Scholarship Board and it doesn’t require proof of financial need,” explains Carla Mae. “My only criterion is that it is given to someone who is starting over . . . like me.”

Herzain Cardenas-Zakata came to Maui from Mexico as a toddler. He is a recipient of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. He is a Dreamer. With help, he overcame some tough times. And we think he now represents the best of that federal program.

As soon as he could work legally, he took a job at a Lahaina restaurant and showed a talent for cooking. At Lahainaluna High School, Herzain participated in Teens Cook with Heart, a program supported by the American Heart Association. For two years running, he and his team won the mystery basket competition held at the end of the eight-week curriculum. That got the attention of philanthropists Joe and Sharon Saunders.

“In the summer of 2017, they asked me if I was serious about a culinary career,” remembers Herzain. “I told them I definitely was and they paid for me to attend the UH-MC Culinary Arts Program.” He received his associates degree on May 9.

“I wouldn’t be where I am without the Saunders’ support and encouragement.” And where he is is on his way to San Francisco to work at one of the best restaurants in the country — Restaurant Gary Danko. “I’m an immigrant kid. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college. I have lots of cousins and I hope my journey inspires them.”

Dreams do come true.

We want you to enjoy your summer. Please, though, take a few moments soon to learn about all UH-MC programs and courses at maui.hawaii.edu/ and consider beginning your own next chapter here at UH-Maui College in the fall or next spring.

* Lui K. Hokoana, Ph.D., is chancellor of the University of Hawaii Maui College. “Ka’ana Mana’o,” which means “Sharing Thoughts,” is scheduled to appear on the fourth Sunday of each month. It is prepared with assistance from UH-Maui College staff and is intended to provide the community of Maui County information about opportunities available through the college at its Kahului campus and its education centers.