Duke Kahumoku is representing UAA’s class of 2014 as the fall commencement speaker.
Kahumoku is graduating this semester with a political science degree while tackling 19 credits. On top of the full time classwork, he manages a family — with a wife, two children and one on the way.
Kahumoku spoke about the challenges of taking on such a unique role of commencement speaker. He said he hopes to express his feelings to the audience as well as his peers.
“I want to be able to articulate experiences and challenges that we’ve gone through in the last however many years and then provide some sort of knowledge or wisdom on what to do in the future,” Kahumoku said.
To be selected, Kahumoku had to submit a narrative essay about why he deserved to be commencement speaker. His submission also included three letters of recommendation, two from faculty and one from staff, and then several letters of recommendation from UAA students.
One letter of recommendation was written by Kimberly Pace, Kahumoku’s mentor. Pace began teaching at UAA in the History Department in 1998. She has taught full time in the Political Science Department since 2003. In 2005, she became the director of the Women’s Studies Department and is the faculty director of Model United Nations.
When asked to describe her experiences with Kahumoku, Pace talked about her first impression of Duke.
“I saw it when I first met him. He would go above and beyond,” Pace said. “If I asked him to do something he would do that and help others. Even in that first year I saw leadership potential. He is so generous and brilliant in a way that he doesn’t know. He is incredibly humble and has the generosity of spirit. He is strong academically and very driven. It has been great to watch the progress from when I first met him to now.”
Pace mentioned that Kahumoku was very reluctant to apply for commencement speaker. When asked why, Kahumoku responded with his original inspiration.
“The entire reason I applied for commencement speaker is sort of a long story,” he said. “I’m Native Hawaiian and Polynesian. Last semester I was studying in the library and met another Polynesian girl. She asked me how far along I was in school and I said that I was graduating in the fall and she was very interested. She had a lot of questions for me. I settled on the fact that there was this other Polynesian girl that was new and excited about college; she was still integrating into college life, study habits, and she had a lot of questions. I guess that conversation I had with that girl inspired me to want to help others and show them that you can overcome all of the challenges thrown at you.”
Multicultural Center Director E. Andre Thorn worked alongside Kahumoku and was another contributor to his letters of recommendation.
“We pride ourselves as an institution about amazing stories, and Duke is a phenomenal one!” Thorn said. “When we see students walking in the halls with these incredible stories harboring inside of them we don’t always take the opportunity to ask them. When we do we get richness like that. The shelf-life of Duke’s career is exponential and isn’t going to expire anytime soon. His bright future is full of accomplishments.”
UAA Fall Commencement will take place from 1-3:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Alaska Airlines Center.