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UH West Oʻahu graduate says it’s ‘never too late’ to better yourself

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Image courtesy of Jill Thompson

Jill Kehaulani Thompson is passionate about wanting to make a difference in her community and is driven to become a social worker, to one day help children and families in need.

The Lāʻie resident will be one step closer to that goal after she receives her Bachelor of Arts in Social Sciences with a concentration in Sociology this semester from the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu.

“This upcoming graduation means a great deal to me for many reasons, but the most important reason — it is never too late to seek education to grow and to better yourself with knowledge,” said Thompson, who is 54 years old.

Thompson will be among more than 300 spring 2021 graduates who will be celebrated at UH West Oʻahu’s Virtual Commencement Ceremony, 9 a.m. Saturday, May 8, on westoahu.hawaii.edu/commencement.

The prerecorded video presentation features remarks by Chancellor Maenette K.P. Ah Nee-Benham, University of Hawai‘i System President David Lassner, Faculty Senate Chair Edward Keaunui, ASUHWO President Caton Liang, and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Moniz.

Commencement festivities will follow later that day with a Drive-Thru Celebration, 2 to 5 p.m. on campus, for graduates who have already submitted their RSVPs. Participants will receive a diploma cover, take an official photo, have their name read, and receive makana (gift) items.

This spring, 369 students will earn bachelor’s degrees in Applied Science, Business Administration, Creative Media, Cybersecurity, Education, Humanities, Natural Science, Public Administration, and Social Sciences.

Graduates will also receive certificates in various programs including Applied Forensic Anthropology, Asian Studies, Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, Gender Studies, Hawaiian & Indigenous Health & Healing, Health Care Administration, Music, Risk Management and Insurance, Substance Abuse and Addictions Studies, and Sustainability Issues.

Thompson is looking forward to this graduation — not just for herself, but for her family. She is the mother of four married children (including identical twins), and the grandmother of four little ones, ages 18 months to 3 years. She will welcome her fifth grandchild in August.

“It is a great opportunity for me to be an example to my children and grandchildren by showing them education can be achieved at all ages and at any age,” she said.

Jill Thompson with her four grandchildren.

The ʻgrit and resilience’ to achieve her goals

“She is phenomenal and has been an exemplary student since Day One,” said Keʻalohi Perry, Social Sciences College Success Advisor at UH West Oʻahu. Perry is Thompson’s advisor.

“Day One” was back in summer 2019, when Thompson took her first course at UH West Oʻahu after enrolling as a transfer student from Windward Community College, where she earned her Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts.

In a letter of recommendation that Perry wrote on behalf of Thompson for her application to UH Mānoa’s Masters of Social Work program, Perry said she has seen Thompson grow and challenge herself during her time as a UH West Oʻahu student.

“Jill is a mature student, but that maturity shines in all that she does,” Perry said. “She knows what she wants and she has the grit and resilience to achieve her goals. Jill is passionate, kind, genuine, and has a spirit that uplifts others. She has been a joy to partner with.”

Thompson is a full-time student who, when not in school, keeps busy with family and her responsibilities as a doting mother and grandmother. Like many other students, she has had to balance home and school life with challenges related to the pandemic over the past year.

“I have persevered through and continue to persevere with increasing my faith in God,” Thompson said.

In addition, she tries to maintain healthy habits like practicing daily prayer, eating healthy, and exercising.

“Another obstacle I experienced while being a student at UH West Oʻahu is living on a super tight budget — much tighter than I had ever experienced,” said Thompson, who is currently not employed.

But Thompson has managed financially, she said, “by becoming very thrifty, learning to go without unnecessary spending, not only living within my means but also reevaluating my spending habits and changing it so I could focus on school, my studies, graduating, and looking to the future for better employment. Yes, even at my age.”

Despite such challenges, Thompson pressed on as a college student, working hard to maintain a good overall GPA and also making the Dean’s List in spring 2020.

Keʻalohi Perry
Keʻalohi Perry

Perry said Thompson was mindful of her resources on campus and sought help when she needed it, actively engaging with the Library, Noʻeau Center, and Advising.

“She is a lifelong learner and is determined to earn a master’s degree so that she can serve and impact the community,” Perry said.

ʻGrateful to be at a place like UH West Oʻahu’

Thompson has since been accepted into the UH Mānoa MSW program. Her next goal is to complete the master’s program, which is a two-year program.

“I am over the moon about this, as you can imagine,” Thompson said. “My vision is to be involved in innovative and cutting-edge solutions through team building and personal engagement to help our North Shore communities.”

Like many other places on Oʻahu, the North Shore has its share of concerns including homelessness, drug and alcohol issues, domestic violence, kūpuna in need of care, and sea level rise concerns, among others, Thompson noted.

“I want to be on the frontlines helping in all ways I can,” she said. “As a member of this North Shore community (Lāʻie), I am passionate about making a difference for good and for better.”

Thompson said her experience at UH West Oʻahu — including her relationships with her advisor, Perry, and some of her professors — has helped her prepare for such goals.

“These people have gone over and beyond their call of duty in providing me never ending support and inspiration, encouraging hard work and no shortcuts, and always pushing me in positive ways to challenge myself to a degree I never knew I had inside,” Thompson said. … “I thank you all from the bottom of my heart.”

As Thompson reflects back on her time at UH West Oʻahu and looks ahead to new beginnings, she shares her hope for other UH West Oʻahu students, encouraging them to always be present in the moment.

“If you are going through a difficult moment — feel it, embrace it, do not let it discourage you enough to let it overtake you. It is OK and you will get through it,” she said. “If you are going through a triumphant moment — give thanks, soak it in, and find a way to serve another to pass on the good.”

Mostly, she advises other students to just do their best.

“And be grateful to be at a place like UH West Oʻahu, where you have the opportunity to be successful with your educational goals,” Thompson said.

Images courtesy of Jill Thompson and UHWO Staff