Thursday, May 14, 2015

Commencement: A milestone in life's journey

A candle lighting ceremony at Student Orientation symbolizes
students' new journey, at HPU.
Reflecting back four years, I vividly remember welcoming members of the Spring 2015 Hawai‘i Pacific University graduating class and their families to the New Student Orientation Kick Off and Family Reception. This was also my first year serving as HPU president, so I was new to the HPU ‘ohana, too. The culmination of the orientation event was the candle lighting ceremony and the recitation of the student pledge. Sharing this HPU tradition symbolized the beginning of these students’ connection to their classmates, their alma mater and the HPU journey ahead.          

Fast forward to today. Nearly 900 HPU students will earn academic degrees, representing a broad range of disciplines, from International Business to Social Work, Computer Science to Diplomacy, Psychology to Nursing. Our graduates are from Hawai‘i, the mainland U.S. and nearly 50 nations around the world. They have experienced much of the world and much of Hawai‘i at HPU, an international learning community set in the rich cultural context of Hawai‘i. 

Each of today’s graduates has a different story to tell about their path to HPU, their subsequent journey at the University, and best of all, their plans and hopes for the future. One thing, however, remains the same for each of our nearly 900 graduates, HPU’s newest alumni. They have a bond with the University, each other and the more than 40,000 HPU alumni who comprise a vital network around the world.

The faculty, staff and administration of HPU are proud of all of our graduates. The sum of their accomplishments and sacrifices made to get to where they are today is commendable.

While their diplomas, the physical symbols of their hard-earned achievement, will be important to our graduates, it is also important not to forget what they stand for. Our graduates received an education, not just a credential. I hope the diploma serves as a reminder to continue on the path of being a life-long learner.  And we challenge our graduates to use the knowledge they gained at HPU not only to make a mark for themselves in the world but to make their communities — wherever that may be — better places.   

To our graduates, congratulations, and mark your calendars for Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, for HPU’s 50th anniversary celebration at the newly reimagined Aloha Tower Marketplace. It will be a homecoming of sorts, and we hope to see you there! We wish you well on your journey beyond HPU and look forward to hearing of your successes along the way. For now, we say a hui hou, until we meet again.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Aloha to Nepal

Sanjeev Ranabhat
Our thoughts are with HPU student Sanjeev Ranabhat, his family, and all those affected by the earthquake. All of us at HPU are proud of our diverse student body, representing so many parts of the world, and that means we also share their sadness and loss. I encourage all of our HPU ʻOhana — faculty, staff, and students — to do all we can to support those who have suffered as a result of the devastation. Please read Sanjeev’s article at

Geoffrey Bannister

Monday, April 20, 2015

Engaging with the community to address homelessness

Here is a sobering statistic: Hawai‘i has the highest rate of homelessness per capita among the U.S. states, according to the 2014 State of Homelessness in America report of the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

Like many others in the Hawai‘i Pacific University community, I view it as a privilege to live, work and study in Hawai‘i. However, amidst the beauty of our island “home,” the reality is that we witness homelessness in the urban setting of our core campus just as we do in other urban environments. 

As a university community, HPU has adopted the Hawaiian values of pono (acceptance and purposefulness), kuleana (responsibility and concern) and aloha (kindness and humility). This raises a vital question for us: How does our treatment of our homeless population reflect on our core values. Do our actions demonstrate an authentic commitment to our ideals, or reveal them as mere words?

While the myriad issues surrounding homelessness are complex and not susceptible to quick or easy solutions, we are taking action. The HPU School of Social Work organized a full week of community engagement activities, which were free and open to the public, and HPU community members spent the last week focused on homelessness as it affects every person in our community. In this effort, our purposes were to raise community awareness, encourage dialogue, develop partnerships, and foster action.       

As my HPU colleague Michaela Rinkel, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the bachelor of social work program, notes: Homelessness is a complex issue and people who are homeless have different needs, requiring different solutions. Dr. Rinkel points out that the intention of the outreach week is not to start and finish a project; it is to get conversations started about the issue and to continue building partnerships with others in the community.      

I will underscore the statement, “homelessness as it affects people.” If we can find it in ourselves to get beyond what we see on the surface and earnestly and compassionately try to understand the situation and story behind each homeless person, we would be one step closer to addressing the issue.

Mark Tjarks, Ph.D., a professor of English on our HPU faculty, has led by example, raising awareness of  Hawai‘i’s homeless community through his Po‘okela award-winning play, “Houseless in Paradise.” With the support of an HPU Trustees Scholarly Endeavors Program grant, Dr. Tjarks conducted research in the community, and based on extensive interviews with 60 members of ‘Oahu’s homeless community, service providers, community leaders and local coordinators on homelessness, he brings individual, diverse, and compelling stories to life through his play.   

HPU is proud of its diversity and the incredible learning opportunities it offers our students. The value of diversity to us includes making an effort to understand the experiences of others whose lives may be very different, and whose challenges may be wholly unfamiliar. It provides an avenue to change fear to empathy, and judgment to compassion, changes we hope to foster across our state.

Embracing these goals and our core values, we invite you to join in the beginning of a journey in partnership with us.  If we all could help—even if it is in a small way—the sum total of our contributions will lead to a better community for all citizens.

A version of this blog post was originally published in Honolulu Civil Beat.