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Commencement student speaker strives to be ‘a bringer of light’ into the world


Image courtesy of UHWO Staff

The day after Dave Ian Domingo Sebastian celebrates his birthday, festivities will continue for the University of Hawai‘i–West O‘ahu senior. His post-birthday plans include graduating on May 4 — when Sebastian will earn a Bachelor of Arts in Humanities with a concentration in Philosophy. It’s quite the gift.

“This upcoming graduation represents the many years of growth, development, and formation to become a functional and caring member of the community,” Sebastian said, “to be a bringer of light and a source of unity for the world.”

Sebastian will be among the participants and one of two student speakers at UH West O‘ahu’s 2024 Annual Commencement Ceremony, 9 a.m. May 4 in the SimpliFi Arena at the Stan Sheriff Center on the UH Mānoa campus. All guests are welcome to the ceremony on a first-come, first-seated basis, and will be able to greet their graduates following the formal commencement program at the Clarence T.C. Ching Field.

This semester, more than 330 students are candidates for graduation, and of these students, about 230 will be participating in commencement, which will celebrate Applied Science, Business Administration, Creative Media, Cybersecurity, Education, Humanities, Natural Science, Public Administration, and Social Sciences candidates.

As one of two students selected to be a commencement speaker, Sebastian wants to convey to his fellow seniors to honor those who shared their love and support with them, and to use their knowledge and experience to make the world a better place.

“I hope that the graduates will remember all those who shared their light with them and be empowered to use their degrees to be a light in the world,” he said.

Positive energy, positive impact

Sebastian, who graduated from Waipahu High School, received an Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts from Leeward Community College in spring 2020. He enrolled in UH West O‘ahu in fall 2020.

Dave Sebastian
UH West O‘ahu 2024 Annual Commencement Ceremony student speaker Dave Ian Domingo Sebastian.

“I have known Dave since fall 2020, when Dave first enrolled in my PHIL 100: Introduction to Philosophy (course) during the height of the COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Li-Hsiang Lisa Rosenlee, professor of Philosophy at UH West O‘ahu.

Rosenlee recalls how Sebastian was not dissuaded by the challenges of a Zoom instruction on the conceptually complex subject of Philosophy.

“Impressed by Dave’s thoughtful contributions to the class discussion and his writing skills, I immediately recommended Dave to be trained as a writing tutor for the No‘eau Center even though Dave was then just starting out as a first-year student,” Rosenlee said.

Sebastian began working as a peer writing tutor in summer 2021 at the No‘eau Center, where he still works today. He considers his first face-to-face tutoring appointment to be one of his most notable achievements during his time at UH West O‘ahu.

“Being more of a shy person, I felt uneasy at first when meeting people for the first time, afraid of saying the wrong thing, and unsure if I could help them with their work,” he said. “However, this appointment helped me to break out of my shell and allowed me to demonstrate my ability to help others.”

Sebastian said the student left the appointment feeling better about their assignment, which in turn helped Sebastian feel in his element with tutoring.

“I always appreciate the positive energy Dave brings to work,” said Dr. Robyn Tasaka, No‘eau Center director and Sebastian’s supervisor. “It has a positive impact on the students he works with in tutoring sessions or does presentations for and to the work environment at No‘eau.”

Tasaka continued, “This semester, Dave has also helped to mentor and train some of our newer tutors, sharing what he has learned over his time as a peer tutor. In a formal training, he chose to share with other peer tutors about the value of positivity in tutoring sessions for encouraging tutees and addressing a variety of challenging situations.”

Working as a peer tutor can be challenging because each session is different, Tasaka said. Peer tutors need to be flexible to adapt to where students are at and the different questions they may ask.

“He was able to keep his head up and to learn from each situation,” she said. “Dave was also able to learn and grow tremendously because he takes feedback seriously. Facing the various challenges of peer tutoring means a lot of feedback from tutees, other peer tutors, and faculty and staff supervisors. Dave is always attentive to this feedback, and this helped him to do his best as a peer tutor.”

‘A person of great compassion’

After graduation, Sebastian’s goal is to become a Catholic priest.

“Although I plan to take a year to continue my spiritual discernment, I plan to apply for seminary on the Continent to get my master’s degree in Divinity to become a priest,” he said. “For me, I am drawn not only to the liturgical or theological aspects of this vocation, but I’m deeply drawn to the call of being ‘an agent of reconciliation,’ and a bringer of unity between the Divine and Human, and between people as well.”

Sebastian said UH West O‘ahu has prepared him for his next chapter in life by allowing him to learn from many different world views and perspectives — through his Philosophy studies to tutoring a diverse student body.

“So I feel like since I have been able to meet and learn from so many people who think or understand the world differently from me, I can use that knowledge to connect with others,” he said. “The hope is that a connection can be made from a place of understanding and that we can bridge the gaps between different communities and foster a sense of reconciliation.”

Rosenlee noted, “It was evident to me then (when he was a first-year student), as it is to me now, that Dave is a person of great compassion and conviction. I am confident that Dave’s spiritual calling … will not only help uplift the community of faith, but also provide much needed compassionate care to our west-side community at large.”

Click here to read more about Jahnna-Marie Kehaulani Kahele-Madali, who was also selected to be a 2024 Annual Commencement student speaker.

Image courtesy of UHWO Staff