Inspiring words from Dr. Lynn Babington, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami and Selected Student Speakers
In his opening remarks to graduating students, Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami ’01, reflected on his time on campus with his wife Monica and his own commencement. “As I look out into the sea of graduates, I see my own reflection in you,” said the 2001 Chaminade alumnus. “It makes me realize how quickly time goes by. But time is just a measurement, until it is filled with very special people who make tremendous impacts in our lives. And today, on this beautiful occasion, as you generously give me your time, each of you becomes a part of my life as well.”
The Commencement ceremony began with a special invocation from Fr. Martin Solma, Chaplain and Special Assistant to the President at Chaminade. President Dr. Lynn Babington then addressed graduates, acknowledging their accomplishments and sacrifices—especially in the face of global uncertainty.
“One of the distinguishing features of a Marianist education is a focus on adaptation and change—skills critically important in today’s challenging world,” Babington exhorted. “You have certainly become more comfortable with navigating the unknown. The ability to work with ambiguity means you’ll be able to face uncertainties, adapt to change and be flexible as the mysteries of life unfold.”
For many graduates, the ceremony is a time of reflection, pride and perseverance, especially with this particular graduating class, which endured a once-in-a-century pandemic, Covid protocols and restrictions, social distancing and a pivot to an online schedule before transitioning to a hybrid model.
“We’re all here today together, making it across that finish line,” said undergraduate speaker Eri Leong. “Through fears and failures, exams and assignments, break-ups and breakdowns, even through a global pandemic, no hurdle was high enough to keep us from walking this stage. Instead, we emerged triumphant over every adversity under the sun. And we’ll carry that unwavering resolve into the abundant opportunities that lie ahead.”
In Simon Bronner’s 1990 book “Piled Higher and Deeper: The Folklore of Student Life,” a chapter devoted to graduation explores how commencement has been celebrated across campuses and throughout the years.
According to the book, some colleges host 100-day countdowns to commencement, with a number of graduation-themed activities. At other schools, graduating seniors leave wills to underclassmen. Some institutions celebrate graduation with a balloon launch to symbolize students moving upward, while others have held ceremonial bonfires where seniors burn course materials or early drafts of their senior theses.
However, even with variation from campus to campus, the commencement ceremony itself remains very much a traditional event, a punctuation point to the collegiate experience with many customs deeply rooted in history, including the caps and gowns, university mace, and guest and student speakers.
“Commencements are a time to join as a community to celebrate the work of our faculty and staff who have supported you throughout your years of study with us, and we celebrate new beginnings,” Babington said in in her address to students. “You are leaving Chaminade University to go out and engage in the world as professionals, as neighbors, as citizens.”
Graduating with a Master of Arts in Teaching, Todd Sibley was selected by his peers to be the evening’s graduate speaker. Immediately preceding the pandemic, the native Californian worked as a social worker for a Hawaii nonprofit organization. When COVID spread across the islands, Sibley lost his job, and he decided to pursue his master’s in teaching social studies in secondary schools.
“Graduates, we have proven ourselves to be resilient, resourceful and resistant to giving up,” Sibley asserted. “The global pandemic would have been an easy excuse to have quit on ourselves and our dreams, but we didn’t. We persevered no matter the obstacle because that’s what we faced—obstacles not barriers.”
As Kauai Mayor during the pandemic, Kawakami confronted his own difficult decisions, turning camp grounds into Safe Zones, ordering shut downs and unpopular vaccine mandates. And through it all, he thought only of his constituents, responding to their needs in the most dire of times.
“What I got most out of my time at Chaminade wasn’t the correct way to structure a sentence or what I gained out of my statistics class; it wasn’t what I gained out of a book,” Kawakami said. “It was the importance of the human element, and the power that simple random acts of kindness can shape the future of one person’s life. That although certain things will fade overtime, the people who cared, the ones that shared, the ones that believed, and made you believe in yourself, will remain with you.
“I feel incredibly grateful to witness this commencement of your next step,” he concluded. “Fair winds and following seas, always be caring and always be trustworthy. Congratulations to this beautiful graduating class of Chaminade University!”