Skip to main content

BYU–Hawaii Winter 2023 Commencement: A Long-Awaited Moment

Sister Soloai walking across the stage during the commencement ceremony.
Photo by Camille Jovenes

Brigham Young University–Hawaii celebrated its winter 2023 graduates during Friday's commencement ceremony. As graduation is an event many anticipate during the years leading up to the monumental day, one graduate, in particular, finally took to the stage after decades of waiting for this moment.

The commencement ceremony began with the procession of graduates, faculty, and administration members, all dressed in traditional academic regalia. After the ceremony began, President John S.K. Kauwe III addressed the graduates. He congratulated them on their achievements and acknowledged the difficulties they faced and overcame to get to this point.

President Kauwe also emphasized the importance of fulfilling the mission of BYU–Hawaii, which is to prepare students of Oceania and the Asia Rim to be lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ and leaders in their families, communities, chosen fields, and in building the Kingdom of God, urging the graduates to use their education to serve and uplift others. He encouraged them further by saying, "As you leave here as graduates today, you will continue to fulfill the mission as you ‘go forth to serve."

Luisa Soloai stands with diploma in hands while wearing multiple flower and candy leis.
Photo by Camille Jovenes

President Kauwe then shared a letter from the daughter of a graduate candidate who was moments away from receiving her diploma. The letter explained that in 1982, an incredible milestone in their family's history was reached when her mother, Luisa Kava Kavea Soloai, was set to graduate with an associate degree in arts and sciences alongside her husband, Newman N. Soloai, who was graduating with a bachelor's of science and social work.

Quoting the daughter, he stated, "However, what should have been a joyous event turned into a heartbreaking one" when Luisa Soloai's name was never read. Although she was dressed in her cap and gown, Soloai was too humiliated to walk across the stage and receive her diploma, even after her husband had invited her to join him.

However, despite this unintentional oversight, Luisa Soloai didn't let the embarrassment stop her from living a life full of service and compassion. After working 38 years for the Church Educational System and Seminaries & Institutes, Luisa and her husband, have accomplished incredible feats. They also served as mission president and companion in the New Zealand Wellington Mission from 2017-2020. Making this moment all the more remarkable, Luisa Soloai is the only one of her ten siblings to have completed a college degree.

Luisa and Newman Soloai are surrounded by family and President and Sister Kauwe.
Photo by Camille Jovenes

Forty years after her initial attempt, Soloai was once again ready to be publicly recognized and receive her diploma. Her husband, children, and extended family joined her to celebrate and honor her accomplishments. When the time came for Luisa Soloai's name to be read, she walked across the stage and received a standing ovation from the audience in the Cannon Activities Center. It was a heartwarming moment that those in attendance will not soon forget.

President Kauwe closed his remarks by sharing, "Sister Soloai exemplifies what it means to be a graduate of Brigham Young University–Hawaii... she has embodied the mission and motto by living a life of purpose, honoring her covenants while striving to live Christ's teachings."

The remainder of the Winter 2023 commencement ceremony was a fitting celebration of the hard work and dedication of the graduates. A sense of pride and accomplishment was felt throughout the arena, and graduates left the occasion with optimism and excitement for the future.