POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 19, 2010
Andria Pakele's mother couldn't stop the tears as her daughter graduated yesterday at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Ana Munez said Pakele was the first person on both sides of her family and the first of about 50 grandchildren in the family in Hawaii to receive a bachelor's degree.
"She worked really hard for this," she said. "I'm just very proud of her."
Pakele was one of about 1,000 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students to receive a degree at the University of Hawaii at Manoa's fall 2010 commencement ceremony. About the same number graduated at this time last year.
Samuel Ting, the keynote speaker and a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, spoke about winning the Nobel Prize in physics for finding an elementary particle in 1976.
"Learning and discovery are lifelong adventures," he told the graduates. "Work hard for what you are interested in. ... Most of all, believe in yourselves."
It was advice many of the graduates are living by, including Munez's daughter Andria Pakele.
Pakele, 29, attended college off and on for about 10 years before getting her business degree yesterday in management information systems.
She spent seven years in the National Guard and has a real estate license but decided it was time to get her bachelor's degree when the housing market declined.
"I don't think it really hit me yet," she said yesterday. "I'm just happy."
Reaching her education goal gave her higher expectations of herself, she said, despite not having the structure at home for secondary education.
"Everything I kind of had to build it on my own," she said. "I'm hoping it will open up more opportunities."
She plans to start a business with her friend, then go to law school.
Somporn Naklang of Thailand received his master's degree in public health yesterday on a full scholarship from the Ford Foundation.
It's been a long journey for Naklang, 37, the only person in his family of six to get an education beyond elementary school.
"They're the reason why I have strong motivation," he said.
When he was a boy, his parents couldn't afford to send him to school, so he became a monk and attended a Buddhist school for less than $20 a year.
Naklang's younger brother, Sornsak, couldn't walk because of a disability and didn't go to school. His two sisters could not attend the Buddhist school because girls weren't accepted as monks.
So Naklang alone attended high school and hoped to become a doctor to help people like his brother. After graduating, he took the national exam to enter medical school in Thailand but was not accepted.
He eventually got a bachelor's degree in education and a second degree in public health, but by the time he applied to the only medical school in Thailand that accepts older students, they rejected his application because he was older than 30.
When Naklang told his brother what happened, his brother said the "gods may have decided the path you have to go" and suggested that he may get a scholarship abroad.
With his brother's encouragement, Naklang applied for and won the Ford Foundation grant, which paid for his tuition, housing and plane ticket.
He arrived at the University of Hawaii in 2007, but his brother never knew what happened because he died of heart failure in 2006.
"Whenever I'm very tired from school because everything is in English, I think about my brother and power comes back again," Naklang said.
Although not a doctor, he sees public health administration as a way to help people by preventing disease and improving treatment.
"It's a different point to focus," he said. "Very important, too."