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Home West O‘ahu Happenings As graduation nears, UH West Oʻahu student asserts education is ‘key tool’

As graduation nears, UH West Oʻahu student asserts education is ‘key tool’


Image courtesy of UHWO Staff

Bryceson Gregory Keali‘iwiwo‘oleikamaunaki‘eki‘e Tugade is mindful of the messages he hopes to convey to the hundreds in attendance — notably his fellow graduating classmates — as a student speaker at the upcoming University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu commencement ceremony.

Always seek the “more” in life. Remain curious. Give back to your community. And one of the most valuable messages, “utilize education as a key tool for attaining personal growth and breaking down barriers,” said Tugade, 23, of Āliamanu.

Tugade will be among the participants and one of two student speakers at UH West O‘ahu’s 2023 Mid-Year Commencement, taking place 9 a.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the UH West O‘ahu Courtyard. Ticketed guests are welcome to the ceremony on a first-come, first-seated basis, and non-ticketed guests are invited to give lei to graduates following the ceremony at the Great Lawn.

This semester, about 300 students are candidates for graduation, and of these students, nearly 200 will be participating in the commencement ceremony, which will celebrate Applied ScienceBusiness Administration, Creative Media, CybersecurityEducationHumanitiesNatural SciencePublic Administration, and Social Sciences candidates.

Tugade will receive a Bachelor of Applied Science with a concentration in Sustainable Community Food Systems (SCFS).

“As a first-generation college student, this means the world and so much more,” said Tugade, who is Filipino, Native Hawaiian, and Chinese. “This upcoming graduation stands as a testament to my family, peers, and larger community, that education can be a key driver in overcoming and breaking perceived barriers.”

‘An emerging leader’

After graduating from Radford High School in 2018, Tugade enrolled at Leeward Community College, where he graduated in spring 2021 with an Associate in Science in Sustainable Agriculture — becoming the first in his family to receive a college degree. He then transferred in fall 2021 to UH West O‘ahu in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree.

“I was initially scared of the prospect of advancing my education,” Tugade said. “However, with staff and faculty assistance, I was not only becoming increasingly confident in my ability to perform within an academic realm, but pursuit of opportunities elsewhere was not met with doubt.”

Tugade has thrived among peers and a community that he said supported him — academically, professionally, and personally — during his time at UH West O‘ahu. He found mentors in Dr. Albie Miles, his academic advisor and an associate professor in the SCFS program, as well as Indrajit Gunasekara, co-founder of the NiU NOW! movement, financial aid officer, and, Tugade said, “my aya (older brother in Sri Lankan).”

“Bryceson was introduced to me by Jesse Mikasobe-Kealiinohomoku (a UH West O‘ahu Spring 2022 Commencement student speaker) as a potential student leader for our Uluniu Project and he is one of the exceptional mentees and an emerging leader,” Gunasekara said. “He’s a preliminary student leader for the Aloha ‘Āina Student Service Club, where he took a leading role in our Uluniu movement.”

Gunasekara said Tugade’s “passionate commitment” to the Aloha ‘Āina movement is very inspiring to many.

“He’s always driven to expand his understanding of the work we do with the perspective of indigenous understanding of where his roots belong, as well as making meaning within the framework of scientific theoretical engagement,” Gunasekara said, adding, “He is a remarkable person, a highly intelligent and deep thinker who’s always ready to step in and to support whenever, whatever capacity the help is needed.”

Tugade said a highlight throughout his years at UH West O‘ahu was the opportunity to study and research at various scales. From conducting research locally, nationally, and internationally, UH West O‘ahu provided him with the resources and opportunities necessary to make this happen, he said.

One such notable opportunity was being a research intern in the summer of 2022 at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, Laguna, Philippines, where he conducted an analysis for the viability of rice breeding for nutrition traits iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn), as well as familiarized himself with breeding strategies to develop biofortified rice.

Traveling to the Philippines also gave Tugade a chance to reconnect with family, understand more about his own culture, and rekindle his relationship with his Filipino roots, he said.

A man standing outdoors with a tree and building in the background.
UH West O‘ahu 2023 Mid-Year Commencement student speaker Bryceson Tugade.

‘For my dad’

After graduating from UH West O‘ahu, Tugade aspires to receive a Master of Science degree at UH Mānoa, with an eventual pathway leading to a Ph.D. in Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences.

“I plan to continue addressing the layers of work that must be done to identify the current environmental, agricultural, and social obstacles we face in Hawai‘i, and strive to find solutions to assist and serve my community,” Tugade said. “By blending my understanding of science and indigenous Hawaiian knowledge, I can help my community to reclaim control of our local and traditional food systems for health and livelihood.”

UH West O‘ahu prepared Tugade for such goals through both rigorous coursework and cultural affirmation within academia and the community, he said.

“Through various courses within the SCFS program, constant review and analysis of multi-disciplinary literature helped me to become articulate within academic and social spaces,” Tugade said. “While still adhering to values and practices, by participating in and engaging with cultural practitioners centered around conservation, food systems, and cultural revitalization, in this, UH West O‘ahu has prepared me to be confident, as well as competent, in advancing my personal and professional goals.”

Miles said Tugade has proven to be an exceptional multidisciplinary food system scholar.

“He has a keen interest in the biophysical sciences, working on the genetics of Polynesian introduced crops with mentors at UH Mānoa, while excelling in his understanding of the root causes of many of the challenges we face in the food system of Hawai‘i and beyond,” Miles said. “He will undoubtedly excel in his pursuit of graduate education at UH Mānoa.”

Tugade said for him, this upcoming graduation entailed pursuing a dream and achieving what was not previously conceived.

“Prior to my A.S. degree, my aim was not set on attaining a bachelor’s degree, nor was it to advance my education even further,” he said. “However, with the assistance of staff and faculty who are willing to champion students like myself, the prospect of higher education seems a lot less daunting.”

Although Tugade didn’t necessarily see himself pursuing a degree, the prospect of higher learning was always a conversation in his household, he said.

“My father emphasized the value of education,” Tugade said.

He recalls how when he was growing up, his family would participate in fundraising events for students in Bacar, Magsingal, in the Ilocos Sur region of the Philippines, his father’s barrio.

“During this semester, my resilience was tested once more — my father had unexpectedly passed away this October from an advanced stage of TB,” Tugade shared. “From grieving with my ‘ohana, to focusing on graduation, and navigating a world without him, I hope to embody resilience and the significant role education can play in our lives.

“This upcoming graduation is for my dad.”

Click here to read more about Kalāwena Kalehuawehe, who was also selected to be a 2023 Mid-Year Commencement student speaker. Commencement student speakers were chosen on criteria including academic achievement and a record of meaningful university or community service.

Image courtesy of UHWO Staff