Walking together at commencement.

On Saturday, May 12, hundreds of proud parents will be in the audience as the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa holds its 107th commencement ceremonies at the Stan Sheriff Center.

Dad Ken Sato won’t just be watching as his 26-year-old son, Todd walks up to the stage to accept his bachelor of fine arts degree. Ken Sato, 45, will also be wearing a cap and gown, as he earns his bachelor of arts in political science almost 20 years after leaving UH, just a few credits short of graduating.

He is thankful for Come Back to Mānoa, an Outreach College program initiated in 2014 that actively reaches out to eligible undergraduate seniors who voluntarily departed the Mānoa campus before completing their first bachelor’s degrees.

It’s never too late

Helping these students complete their higher education and earn their bachelor’s degrees, sometimes decades after they leave school, are the main goals of Come Back to Mānoa, led by Coordinator Shannon Johnson.

The program serves as an advocate for students, and provides encouragement, guidance and assistance to almost-grads like Sato, who graduated from Waipahu High School in 1991 and immediately enrolled at UH Mānoa.

Then life happened. “It was in my second semester that I found out I was going to be a father. Probably about a semester after that I had to drop out to support my family,” he said. “I wasn’t the best student at the time, so it was a real struggle.”

Sato returned to UH Mānoa for his bachelor’s degree in 1996, but stopped attending again in 1999, although he did earn his television production certificate from Leeward Community College. He was employed in video production for 20 years.

I think it’s going to be a little bit of pride, because I stuck with it.
—Ken Sato

“Just recently, though, I had a turn of events in my career that forced me to try to change direction,” he said. “So that’s when I contacted UH admissions to see what I could do at that point.” Sato was connected with Come Back to Mānoa’s Johnson, who looked at his records, what courses were needed to graduate, how that could be accomplished and which people he needed to contact to earn his degree.

Life happens. But it’s never too late—and Saturday is proof for Ken Sato, who explained how he’ll feel on earning his bachelor’s degree. “I think it’s going to be a little bit of pride, because I stuck with it,” he said. “I actually abandoned it at one point, but then came back. It was my dream and here it is.”

Adds his son, Todd, who has advice for other “almost-grads” like his father: “I would say, give Come Back to Mānoa a call, and inquire about what services are available, because you are a lot closer to graduating than you think.”

This story courtesy of UH News.