United States Senator Mazie Hirono will be attending the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa’s graduation ceremony this fall – something she did not do when she was at the college in 1970.
“It didn’t seem particularly necessary to go to my graduation at that time,” Hirono said.
Hirono explained that it was during a climactic point in the Vietnam War, and that she was involved in the anti-war movement. She said that a lot of her other classmates decided not to attend graduation at that time as well.
According to UH, 1968 was when there was a 10-day student and faculty sit-in protesting the Vietnam War following the denial of tenure for a political science professor that served as an advisor to an anti-war student group.
“It (the Vietnam War) was the first time I questioned what my own government is doing,” Hirono said. “It is what led me to political activism. Not many local kids protested the war. It was the UH campus that came outside of the state. And that speaks to … in some ways, the conforming culture that came from it.”
Hirono emphasized that it is important for students to question not only their government but other things as well.
“I think it’s a good thing for people to express themselves,” she said. “I think it’s really important to not remain quiet when things around you are not quite right.”
Hirono said that when she was younger, she was never outspoken. She said this was because of her childhood, where she lived with her mother and siblings in tough living conditions in Japan. She had an abusive father, who had problems with gambling and alcohol.
When Hirono was almost 8, her mother was plotting their escape along with her siblings. They finally immigrated to Hawai‘i in 1955. Hirono said that when she first started elementary school in Hawai‘i, she did not know how to speak or read in English.
She credited her time at UH as the reason for her “political awakening” and as a path that eventually led her to elected office.
“Being vocal and outspoken was a journey for me,” Hirono said. “Our culture here is very supportive, very ohana. Aloha is more than just a word. It’s about caring for other people.”
She graduated from UH with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Eventually, she went to Georgetown University and obtained a law degree in 1978.
At first, Hirono thought about becoming a therapist or counselor because she wanted to help others. But when she became involved in the anti-war movements at UH, she decided to pursue a career in law and politics.
“One thing about going to a university, if you’re allowed to do things that are a little different, you can learn things,” Hirono said of her time at UH. “I was exposed to people who were anti-war activists. I wouldn’t have had that experience (otherwise).”
Hirono also shared this piece of advice for upcoming graduates:
“Do the thing that fulfills you, and that’s not easy sometimes to do something meaningful or purposeful. But whatever it is, do it. Life is short. I’m really grateful that I got to be an advocate and a voice, and do a lot of listening.”