Sam Mangakahia is a recent alumnus of Brigham Young University–Hawaii from Brisbane, Australia. He graduated fall of 2020 with a bachelors in visual arts and a minor in painting. Mangakahia has always been passionate about carving Moko patterns, first starting with ukuleles and guitars. He's now expanded his work to other mediums such as t-shirts, surfboards, and now presidential medallions.
Mangakahia first met President Kauwe when he was invited to an early morning surf session by a professor at BYU–Hawaii. What started as the family's surf instructor has matured into a friendship of mutual respect. Mangakahia comments, "Kauwe has been an incredible example of what leadership should look like. I've been able to serve with him, which has been an incredible honor." Moving forward, "if I can add value to his objectives for the school I'm all in."
Mangakahia looks at President Kauwe as a progressive leader who is also very pro-culture. "His being the president of BYUH is very significant," comments Mangakahia. Working with Kauwe has influenced his ability to push for cultural influences everywhere.
When first starting the medallion, he didn't know what he was doing, he had a vague vision, but it took a lot of research and hard work to produce what we see today. He worked with the lead architect professor at the University of Hawaii to laser cut the medallion and achieve precise designs. It has been an interesting process; that turned out more challenging than he initially thought.
The outside of the medallion on the side displaying around the ti leaf represents "Malama," or care. Mangakahia explains that to be successful; people need to give and need to take. He then references the saying, "We all drink from wells we did not dig," in explaining the outer circumference of the medallion representing President Kauwe drinking from the well of his ancestors, how his past has shaped and prepared him for the present and future.
The middle design is an inlay of a ti leaf pattern from a quilted design President Kauwe's grandmother stitched. It symbolizes blessings and prosperity. This piece further connects President Kauwe to his family and ancestral roots. It's also showing the 'Mana' of his leadership.
Three different types of wood were incorporated into the medallion—the first being Koa for its strength and durability. Then Milo wood is used for the inner laying, showing color through its red grain. Lastly, the ti leaf symbol is made out of Maple wood to create a stark contrast—each of these representing the depth in importance that surrounds President Kauwe and his mission. You'll also see grains of sand from Hukilau beach mixed in with the white resin used in the lettering.
The bottom phrase, "E‘ Ōpu Ali‘i," translates to "the heart of a chief." It signifies Kauwe's leadership and love for the university community.
Mangahakia's gratitude for President Kauwe has increased over the time he's been able to work with him. He commented, "It's interesting how differently I see leadership now, and how much respect I have for leaders of the church, of the school, leaders in general." He also describes this experience as an "incredible opportunity." He is honored to contribute to the school's mission and the students here. He's also grateful to showcase something that highlights the importance of culture, connection, and innovation.