HawCC Students Beat Adversity on their way to Graduation

These student profiles were featured in the Hawaii Tribune Herald on Friday, May 4, 2012.

Here is a link to the Tribune Herald version:


On Friday, May 11, 2012, Hawaii Community College will celebrate the Commencement ceremony of 445 graduates. Among the graduates being honored for their educational milestone, three students depict the essence of education through their inspirational journey.

Koran Munafo

At the age of 16, Koran Munafo decided to drop out of high school, where she later received her GED. Since Koran struggled as a single parent and had two failed attempts with higher education, she decided that she would never return to school again. One day she realized that she was missing something in her life; she realized that she could be more. Koran explained, “Hawaii Community College was my beacon into the darkness and has been a bridge to a better future.”

As a non-traditional student and single parent of three children, Koran has worked hard to bring her family to the place they are today. She has struggled through constant challenges of finding childcare, making ends meet with a limited amount of income, and even tackling health and wellness issues.  Despite these struggles, Koran has persevered and has been committed to the continued cultivation of understanding, tolerance, and creativity with the development of a balanced perspective through education. Koran has come to see education as a critical step in the process of formulating who she is, what she stands for, and what she strives to do for herself and her family. Before her educational journey began, she mentioned, “I never would have dreamed of the things that I see possible today and attainable for myself and my family.”

From other outstanding candidates, Koran has the prestigious honor of being the  student speaker for the Commencement ceremony. She has garnered numerous academic achievements, leadership opportunities, and built a solid core in the Human Services and Liberal Arts Program at Hawaii Community College. In the fall, Koran plans to continue her education at the University of Hilo and work towards a Bachelors Degree in Sociology and Communication.

Justine Reyes

Justine Reyes has a remarkable story of motivation. As a single parent and proud mother of four boys, Justine is a full-time student at Hawaii Community College and is currently in her last semester of the Electrical Installation and Maintenance Technology (EIMT) Program.

On a typical morning, Justine wakes up at 5:00 a.m. to get ready for school. Like other students who commute to college, Justine drives a hundred and twenty-six miles a day to get from Kona to Hilo. She has commuted to college for two years. By the time Justine ends her day, it is around 11:15 p.m., leaving her hardly anytime to spend with her children.

How does Justine manage to balance work, caring for her children, and commuting to college everyday? Justine explained,“ If you have this motivation within you, you want to make your life better not only for yourself, but for your family’s sake. There is this determination, a drive that you feel within yourself.” There were times when she had doubt and even wondered if she could stay strong to graduate. Justine struggled with finance, wondering how she would pay for gas and bills, but mentioned, “That is why, I give thanks to all of my family, friends, and the good Lord for the strength they provided for me.”

Justine strives for a future where she would be financially set, which is why she decided to continue her education. With her degree at Hawaii Community College, Justine hopes to achieve her dream job as an Electrician.

Theopholius O’Neal

“I learned that the hardest struggles give you a strength that you just can’t measure,” said Theopholius O’Neal. Within the same year, Theopholius lost the two most influential people in his life, his grandmothers. Struggling with the lost of his grandmothers and having personal family issues, Theopholius found it difficult to move forward. The inspiring words of his grandmothers gave him the perseverance to continue his education.

Since the job market was bleak, Theopholius decided to enroll at Hawaii Community College, where he attended with his nephew, Matthew. Although, Theopholius had second thoughts, “I am just too old for this,” he continued to have a positive outlook on his education. He had many thoughts of quitting, but remembered that his grandmother would encourage him to never quit, regardless of how bad things were. Theopholius knew that both of his grandmothers would have wanted to see him finish college, so he went after his studies with vengeance.

To take his mind off of family matters, Theopholius joined the University Radio Hilo and eventually garnered a position as the general manager. He managed to excel in his studies and earned honorable grades in the Architecture, Engineering, and CAD Technologies Program. As Theopholius pondered on his educational accomplishments, he explained, “I owe it all to the struggles that I went through. It made me a stronger and better person.”


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