Scholarship recipient Naftali Tolibas

One Step at a Time

Inspiring excerpts from Naftali Tolibas’s speech from the  2017 Scholarship Celebration

I grew up on the west side of O‘ahu in a small town called Waipahu. I'm currently in my last semester of my undergraduate school in mechanical engineering and a recipient of the four year Fernandez Earl Endowed Scholarship.

I'll be honest with you. Growing up I wasn’t the brightest kid! I ran for class president in the sixth grade and I lost. I wasn't the JPO captain... I settled for average for most of my life. You know that saying that C's get the grace? Except I'm Filipino so B's, and you avoid a long lecture about the importance of education.

When I became a freshman in high school I wasn't so confident. As a part of an assignment, I set a goal for myself to be the valedictorian of our kahu, get a full ride scholarship to college and to be an automotive mechanic which later translated into a mechanical engineer.

If you knew me at that time, those were really out of my league. Ambitious goals!  I was scared. People told me that I was smart but that it was high school and that it was harder and that even they couldn't do it. The thing that they didn't know was that I had a really strategic plan set up. Take it one step at a time!

I focused on what I could control today and I did my best. I think that's the secret. We get so caught up in the things that we can't control that we lose control of the things that we can. So I took it one day at a time.

To challenge myself I ran for numerous leadership positions, lost a few races, volunteered at church, joined the student council and just really tried to be the best version of myself.

I eventually did reach my goals. Became a valedictorian, got into the UH College of Engineering, and got that full ride scholarship.

But the speech isn't about me. It's about you guys who believe in people like me. The people who believe that it's worth putting in time, money and effort into individuals who walk on this thousand-mile journey. It's reassuring to know that people acknowledge your effort, your hard work and that people are willing to help, to lend a helping hand.

Realistically without your help I would have started at the community college level and would have had to work my way up. Now don't get me wrong. Starting at the CC level is not bad, but by work, I mean literally work because of the financial burden it would have taken on my family.

I think I speak for all the scholarship recipients when I say that it makes us work harder. I really had no choice but to focus on school. I had no excuse. There were times when I didn't feel like studying, you know I just wanted to sleep all day. But the thought that if I didn't graduate in four years, that it would cost $6,000 a semester... that if I didn't do this homework that it might be a $6,000 mistake... that's a car! That was a great motivation. But more importantly, to know that there are people who are betting on you to do well. That makes all the difference.

Currently, I'm in my fourth and last year of studying to become a mechanical engineer. For me it's been a true blessing to have to focus on school and not really worry about finances. I work as a student assistant at the Student Equity, Excellence and Diversity office (SEED) at UH part-time so that I can stay independent of my parents.

After I graduate I'll be moving to Arizona where I will be working my dream job at Raytheon, a defense contractor. A little side story – I actually got rejected twice for internships at that company so I was super nervous at my interview. We were in this room and I'm sitting down talking to some of the people who are getting interviewed and these people are from Yale, UCLA, Stanford. Very nerve-wracking and I’m just this kid from UH. I was really ecstatic when I found out that I got an offer. It just proves that students from UH can compete with the mainland kids.

I hope to take my experiences from the mainland and one day return to benefit the people of Hawai‘i. I also hope to one day start a scholarship fund to help kids, especially from Waipahu, get to college. The truth is that the journey never ends. We have to keep working hard, no matter what. It’s the selfless giving that creates a rippling effect that helps others stay motivated and to keep chasing the dream.

For Our University, Our Hawai‘i, Our Future