Hawai’i Community College – Pālamanui celebrated graduation on Saturday, May 14 in drive-thru fashion, where some of the cars and truck beds were as decorated as the departing students.
The event was one of nine graduations at University of Hawai’i HCC campuses across the state over the weekend, but revs at the campus ceremony under the wind was appropriate, as the class of 2022 included eight auto mechanic graduates who were members of a unique pilot project with the college, Hawaii P-20 and Kealakehe High School.
Their Saturday morning debut marked Kona’s first-ever cohort of auto mechanic graduates.
“I dreamed of this day for three years,” Pālamanui principal Raynette “Kalei” Haleamau-Kan told automotive students before they graduated and returned their acorns. “Three years and you children are here.”
The students began taking dual-credit auto mechanic courses three years ago as juniors at Kealakehe High School. By the time they graduated from Kealakehe last year, they had already completed half of the Associate’s Degree in Automotive Mechanics from HCC.
Although dual credit is common, the pilot program is unique because it is a vocational and technical education and leads students to a career-focused associate degree. Last year, they graduated through on-the-job learning at Kona-area auto shops as part of the program.
“It feels good to finally finish what we started three years ago,” Chase Fernandez, 18, one of the automotive graduates said after the ceremony.
Fernandez said he never envisioned graduating, he focused on one day at a time as he went through all the hard work and training. But the big day finally arrived and Fernandez expressed his gratitude to everyone who helped him and his classmates get to where they were on Saturday.
“Thank you all for your support in trying to get us through this program,” he said. “I know it wasn’t easy, just lots of alohas to everyone who got us to this point.”
The ceremony took place in the main campus parking lot. The cars marched in single file, slowly, as in a parade, to the front podium installed near the buildings. The graduate in a cap and gown got out of the car and walked to the podium to receive his diploma from Chancellor Rachel Solemsaas. Then they posed for photos with friends and family, got back into their cars and drove off as onlookers cheered from seats set up in what would otherwise be parking spaces.
“It’s weird, but good at the same time,” graduate Ken Takeishi said of the ceremony, and the attention that comes with it.
His family guided him into the automotive program, which he said he was glad he took. He now works as a mechanic, which he never thought was the case before he started his journey, and he will continue to work as such.
“Thank you for being so supportive, you guys are awesome,” he said of his family.
“I never thought of being a mechanic,” he added. “I feel good now.”
The automotive program was developed to meet the needs of students in West Hawaii and the local automotive industry. Due to the distance from HCC’s Hilo campus, where the AMT program is based, few students from the West Island of Hawaii have enrolled, resulting in a shortage of qualified automotive technicians in the area. school officials said.
Workplace learning companies that participated in the program were Kona Trans; Big Island Toyota; Kona mufflers and auto repair; Business; Budget; 808 Collision; Tony Honda; Island and all-terrain performance; and No Limitz Auto Repair LLC.
Statewide, more than 4,000 students graduated from UH-HCC this weekend, including in Hilo.