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Record Number of Minority Students Graduate UH Medical School

May 25, 2019, 10:00 AM HST (Updated May 23, 2019, 2:25 PM)
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New doctors of Filipino ancestry at the 3rd Annual Filgrad. Courtesy photo UH.

A record number of Native Hawaiian and Filipino medical students graduated from University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa’s John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM) this year, the school announced Tuesday.

Despite under-representation of ethnic minorities in higher education, JABSOM reported 12 Native Hawaiian and 12 Filipino students received their MDs.

Each of the students were honored with cultural recognition commencement ceremonies. Those of Native Hawaiian ancestry were presented with a ceremonial cloak or kīhei, which young doctors previously designed using traditional Native Hawaiian techniques. The kīhei were designed with a rusty, red color made from the leaves and fruit of the ʻaʻaliʻi bush.

“Most importantly, we chose the ʻaʻaliʻi as our theme for it’s known strength and resilience,” said Jayden Galamgam, MD. “Despite wind, rain and the elements, ‘aʻaliʻi wood is said to be naturally termite resistant and can withstand extreme droughts making it the hardiest of plants.”

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Dr. Galamgam added that, like the ‘aʻaliʻi bush, his class will continue to be resilient as they move toward the challenges of MD residency.

In addition, each cloak was printed with designs that represent each student’s individual journey of studying medicine.

New kauka opio (young doctors) at the Annual Kīhei Ceremony. UH courtesy photo.

“These 12 rows don’t just represent the Native Hawaiian students graduating but also symbolize 12 years directly serving the fire department in my community and the colors black and red symbolize the lava on the Big Island,” said Michael Brigoli, MD, of Hawaiʻi Island.

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Beginning with 24 participants at the inaugural Filipino graduation recognition ceremony in 2017, the UH Filgrad more than tripled this year with 84 participants.

The UH Filgrad is a student-led event organized by various UH Mānoa Filipino organizations and with community support. The event was inspired by several longstanding Filipino commencement ceremonies at public universities in California including San Francisco State University, the University of California (UC) San Diego, UCLA and UC Berkeley.

Dr. Celina Hayashi was among the graduation ceremony speakers and spoke of the importance of remembering ancestral roots.

“My grandparents are my reason why I’m able to stand before you today as a doctor,” she said. “They will continue to help me become an effective family physician as they have taught me the importance of treating everyone I encounter with compassion.”

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