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The Power of a Dream

Graduation speaker, Shareef Basan says he accomplished what he once thought was impossible by chasing his dreams and helping others along the way.

Portrait of Shareef Basan
Photo by Kevin Clyde Tumaliuan

Going to college seemed like touching the stars to the young Shareef Basan, the student speaker at the BYU–Hawaii Winter 2024 Commencement. It was beautiful, yet impossible, he said, because of the cycle of poverty his family had been in for generations. Basan chose to break that cycle and take the inconvenient and uncomfortable journey to make a difference for himself, his family, and future generations, said Therese Geneblazo, his fiancee.

Basan majored in business management and Geneblazo is a junior studying hospitality and tourism management. They are both from the Philippines and have known each other since they were 16.

Basan thought going to school in America was a fantasy, he said, “too grand of an ambition for a poor kid like me.” That changed when, on his mission, Basan said he was on exchanges with another missionary. The elder told him about BYUH’s IWORK program. “That conversation ignited a spark within my heart to try and apply to BYUH,” he said.

Shareef and his fiancee walking along the beach in Hawaii.
Photo by Kevin Clyde Tumaliuan

After coming here, Basan encouraged his fiancee and his siblings to apply, said Geneblazo. “He told me of the opportunities BYUH could offer,” she said, such as being able to work while going to school, which is not possible in the Philippines. She also said it is the ideal environment to be surrounded by church members and have a temple so close. The professors and values of the university have guided her and Basan, she said, not only secularly but also spiritually.

His graduation is not only an educational achievement, said Basan, but also signifies personal growth and a commitment to go forth and serve. After Geneblazo graduates, she said they see themselves going home to the Philippines, serving in the church, and starting a business to support their families.

Moana Numanga, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Business & Government, said Basan is the genuine gold President David O. McKay talked about in his vision of the university. She also said Basan exemplifies the mission of the university, which is to build leaders and disciples of Christ. “Shareef has centered his life on Christ,” she said, and that combined with his enthusiasm for his education will help him accomplish any dream.

Breaking the chains of everyday life

When Basan was in high school, he said his family would often eat just rice and sugar to afford sending him to school. “Seeing how hard it was for us to survive everyday ignited the spark in me that said, ‘I’m done with this kind of life,’” explained Basan. He said he wants a different life for his future children.

His mother thought education was the key, Basan said. She juggled heavy labor jobs to give him the chance she never got to graduate from high school, he said. Basan doesn’t think he can ever give enough back to her while she is alive, but he said having all her children earn bachelor's degrees would be the biggest gift he could give his mother.

Basan's first application to attend Brigham Young University–Hawaii was denied. After that, some of his friends doubted his dream was a possibility. Others told him it was better not to be accepted because he would just be a nobody at a university filled with exceptional students. “It was very easy to start doubting if I could really make it, but deep down I realized I couldn’t let those setbacks define my journey,” said Basan. He worked hard, applied again, and was accepted the second time.

Portrait of Shareef sitting in front of Brigham Young University–Hawaii.
Photo by Kevin Clyde Tumaliuan

Numanga said what she will remember about Basan is he always showed up and was consistent. “He never wavered or had a bad day,” she said adding, “Maybe that applies to life as well. If we just keep moving with the little consistent habits, we will find success.”

After he was denied the first time, Basan worked hard while he waited to hear about his second application. He got a job at a tele-performance call center in the Philippines to save money to come to Laie. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Philippines went into lockdown. “I had to stay on-site and sleep under my desk,” he said. He did that for six months, said Geneblazo, to save as much money as he could. When he got the acceptance letter from BYUH, he said he cried himself to sleep with a heart full of gratitude to Heavenly Father.

Numanga has taught Basan for the last two years and had him in five classes. She did not know much about his background, but as she learned more, she was not surprised. She called him a “quiet giant,” one of those people whose “presence, gentleness, and kindness speaks way more about them than they possibly could.”


Basan and Geneblazo are getting married the week after graduation. Basan said he doesn’t have a solid plan of what he will do after graduation, but he wants to focus on being a great husband and father as he starts his family. “I never met my biological father,” he said. “It has always been my dream to be the father I never had.”

His mom worked in Saudi Arabia, explained Basan, and got pregnant there. She went back home to the Philippines to give birth. His father sent mail to his mom, said Basan, but she never responded and they lost communication. When he grew up, Basan read one of those letters. “In it he says how much he loves me, how much he loves my mom and how excited he is to see me,” said Basan. He shared there is a space in his heart that has always wanted to meet his biological father. He has looked on the internet, social media and used DNA tests in his search but, “If it is not God’s will for us to meet here, maybe in the next life. I trust that everything will work out.”

Shareef and his fiancee on the beach.
Photo by Kevin Clyde Tumaliuan

Geneblazo said neither of the two of them have a traditional family. Her father died when she was 2 years old and her mother worked overseas to send money home, so she was raised by her grandparents. “We both want to have a complete family,” said Geneblazo. They said they dream of praying, reading the scriptures and attending church together with their future children because “there is nothing more worthwhile, precious, or priceless than being with your family for time and all eternity,” explained Geneblazo.

Both Geneblazo and Basan were raised Catholic. Basan said he found the missionaries after his neighbor’s friends shared some chocolate the sisters had given them during a lesson. Basan joined the discussions and was baptized with the rest of the next-door-neighbors’ family when he was nine years old. When Basan was preparing to serve a mission, he told the sister missionary who taught him his plan. She said she was surprised that the little boy who came to the lessons because of the chocolate was the only one who stayed active in the Church.

Later he introduced Geneblazo to the Church when they were 17. She said she went to many churches trying to find one that felt complete to her. “One Sunday, [Basan] gave me the address of the church. I went and met the missionaries, and a month later I was baptized,” she said.

Helping others

Basan’s younger brother used to be less active in the Church, but through Basan’s encouragement he is now preparing to serve a mission and plans to attend BYUH afterwards.

Basan’s fiancee and sister got accepted to BYUH a year after he did, Geneblazo said. “When he got the news, he was so happy because he said he would have family here,” she recalled, and he lent the two of them money to buy their plane tickets.

Portrait of Shareef
Photo by Kevin Clyde Tumaliuan

Basan sends some of his income back to his family almost every month, said Geneblazo. He wants to help them be self-reliant, she said, but he doesn’t know how to do that yet. He is thinking of helping them start a business or helping his mom find a stable job.

Thinking back on when he received the email telling him he was selected as the April 2024 Commencement student speaker, he said he thought, "I am not worthy for this privilege. There are many students who are far more qualified compared to me."

"But then I realized, just like me there are many other students who have been trying to work diligently to achieve their dreams in the shadows and avoid the spotlight. Maybe this opportunity is given to me to let them know that even though they are known by just a few people, just like me, their contributions to the university are no less significant, their voices can be heard and they can receive opportunities like this."