Gratitude for my doctoral journey

Gratitude for my doctoral journey

Life has been one giant roller coaster since my dissertation defense, graduation celebrations, family vacation back on the Big Island to bid farewell to friends and colleagues in Hilo, move back into our home in California, and starting a new job as Director of Science Education & Mentorship in Latino Lives in Academia (SEMILLA) at the University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC). I can finally breathe and acknowledge some pilooy (companions on a journey) without whom I would not have been able to complete my doctoral journey. Here’s what is forever printed in the acknowledgement section of my dissertation. My deepest apology if I missed anyone else who has directly impacted my doctoral journey. Please know I am deeply grateful.


Iʻm grateful for the pilooy (companions) on this journey without whom I would have been lost in the vast sea of academia.

TupuniolTo Desha, my companion for life and most trusted captain of the Staley-Raatior canoe, who continues to guide the family canoe with such strength, grace, compassion, and conscientiousness. Thank you for your love and encouragement, your belief in me, but especially for taking care of our family while I pursued my dream. Your love is my constant companion on lonely days when all I had were lofty ideas and a basket of frustrations. 

Naihangiluk and RahutowTo my children Keala and Keoni who have had to put up with an absent dad for 3 years especially the final year, thank you for your patience and love. I hope someday when you embark on your own journeys you will understand why we had to sacrifice so much these last 3 years for your future.  You are my North Star, the immovable light that continues to keep me going. Please know that your FaceTime, your virtual hugs, your phone calls, and your love kept me going when darkness of hopelessness and loneliness set in. Your smiles were chants that lull me to sleep each night.

Extended FamilyKirang, my mother the only child of Lihapela who has lived a difficult life, but raised 9 children to the best of her limited resources yet unlimited love.  Deepest gratitude to my siblings Maggie, DJ, Quin, Novy, Georgina, Tim, Myrin, and Eddy as well as your spouses and children. You are the original positive deviants in my life who continue to be role models for me. I want to thank Deshaʻs family including Barry and Stepho, VO and Joyce, Derek and Mindi for helping my family when I was an absent dad.

Positive DeviantsI want to thank the Micronesian students – the positive deviants – who agreed to participate in my study. Killisou! Kamagar! Kalahngan! Kulo! For your willingness to share your treasure of wisdom with me and the world. As I said to each of you, you are the expert in your journey, your own true paluwlap (master navigators) of your canoe. No one should ever tell you otherwise. And no one, no one will ever minimize your success in academic pursuit or some research study. Your experiences were and are real, valued, and most of all revered. Take pride in your success and continue to lead forward courageously on this rough ocean we call life. Please forgive me if I have not adequately represented your wisdom in this paper.

EdD ProgramFor the program directors (Hunter, Jeff, Sarah), all the faculty, mentors, and graduate assistants for your commitment to form the next generation of leaders. You have all opened my mind to challenge the status quo, inspired me to be unapologetic about my indigenous viewpoints, taught me to embrace complexities, and inspired me to continue to improve my practice as a leader.

Cohort II – We did it, crew, we did it! Together! I am truly grateful to be part of our Cohort II canoe. I have learned so much from you all. I especially want to thank my consultancy team members, Dr. Kaleihoku Kalai-Aguiar, Dr. Ed Noh, Dr. Natalie Nimmer, and Dr. Jerelyn Watanabe, and our faculty advisors: Dr. Dan White and Dr. Mary Therese Perez Hattori. Your friendship, passion, intelligence, work ethic, commitment, laughter, love, and our weekly Hangouts and occasional cocktails have made this journey so much deeper than I could have ever imagined. Special shout out to my fellow Hilo crew, Kaleihoku and Rayna for your companionship, our long hours writing at Starbucks, our early flights to Oahu, our airport traditions of conversations and laughter over greasy breakfast and pre-boarding cocktails…theyʻve made these years memorable. Thank you, Erin, for your warm smiles, generous soul in giving our neighbor island crew rides from and to the airport. To my friend Natalie Nimmer…kommol tata to God for letting our journeys cross on this program. Thank you for opening your heart and home to this homeless Chuukese and for your support for the Micronesian community particularly the Marshallese people.

CommitteeI am deeply grateful for the best committee a struggling Chuukese can have on a journey of academic pursuit. Your patience, positivity, belief in me, and your encouragement carried me when my self-confidence was tested during this process. Dr. Jeffrey A.S. Moniz, mahalo nui for your forward thinking and belief that Micronesian educational wisdom has a place among the other educational priorities in the State of Hawaiʻi. Your kindness, compassionate leadership, your positivity means the world to me. Dr. Mary Therese Perez Hattori, my Chamorro pirate, thank you for your leadership rooted in absolute love and care for our indigenous roots. Youʻve turned this quasi Chuukese into one who fully honors my indigenousness. Si yuʻus maʻase for your companionship, belief in our indigenous strengths, encouragement, feedback, and for being such an awesome ambassador for our Micronesian community. Dr. Denise L. Uehara, thank you for accepting my invitation to bring your expertise and passion for research in the Pacific rooted in social justice to the committee. I am so blessed to consider you a colleague, mentor, companion, and above all a friend. Our shared experience of surviving that episode of our careers has made us stronger.

Knowledge CircleFinally, I want to thank all my friends and mentors whose inspiring lives and deep wisdom and knowledge have contributed to my search for and embracing of indigenous knowledge and Micronesian pride. All shortcomings in this study are mine alone. I want to thank the leaders of the Micronesians United – Big Island (MU-BI) for inspiring me with your commitment to our people. Specifically, Dr. Craig Severance for pushing me to finish my dissertation, to the Ueda family for inviting me to share meals with your ohana, my sisters and hydrating partners Tulpe Day and Emma Mori for all the laughter, the Raffipiy family for being an ambassador for our people, Jeremy Uowolo for your leadership in youth development. I also want to thank the leaders of We Are Oceania (WAO) including Jocelyn “Josie” Howard, Keola Diaz, Kathy Martin, and the rest of the team at PIDF. The COFA Community Advocacy Network (COFACAN) leaders particularly Joakim “Jojo” Peter, Dina Shek, and other allies continue to inspire me with their advocacy work for Micronesians in Hawaiʻi.

I am grateful to Deacon Celestino Emwalu for his generosity in sharing his wisdom and excitement for the preservation of minika oreniarh (our indigenous knowledge) and formulating the foundation of the arekirek research methodology which I promise to continue to build with his help. I also want to thank Paul Hadik, Dr. Michael Levin, Fran Hezel, SJ, Arthur Leger, SJ, Ken Urumolug, SJ, whose kindness in sharing their wisdom continue to help me grow as a Micronesian educational leader.

Deepest gratitude to my colleagues at UH Hilo who have inspired my research into strength-based approach because of their positivity in their practice as student-centered professionals: Dr. Joseph Genz, Andrew Polloi, Ginger Hamilton, Kurt De La Cruz, Zach Street, Moana “Ulu” Ching, Rita Miller. Special gratitude to my former supervisors Jim Mellon, Dr. Lynn Morrison and Dr. Daniel Brown, who enabled me to pursue this work.

Final words…on giving back

I am grateful to the FSM Scholarship Board and the Chuuk State Scholarship Board for funding my doctorate to enable me to concentrate on learning. I am especially grateful to the late Noah Ruben (Deputy Director of Education, Chuuk State) for believing in me when others in the Chuuk State Department of Education leadership did not; his signature days before his untimely passing moved my stalled application forward after it sat on the director’s desk for weeks. Killisou ngonuk, Deputy Noah. I hope you’re looking down from Heaven and proud of my fulfilling my part in learning, representing Chuuk proudly by graduating with honors.

In all of my academic journeys from undergraduate to graduate school, I have never applied for the Chuuk State or national scholarships. With the expenses associated with raising a family, I finally needed the help of my country and state on this final leg of my doctoral journey. I am grateful for my scholarship. 

Giving back in service is important to me.  I intend to fulfill the terms of the scholarships by advancing the success of my fellow Micronesians and Chuukese both at home and abroad. I will continue to serve my country and state through my various projectseducational consulting and social enterprises or through elected public service when the appropriate time comes. My commitment is a LIFETIME OF SERVICE rather than the 2 years required of scholarship recipients.