Okasako ‘ohana: Michiko & Masao with their son Neil
“I was shocked and amazed when I received the Okasako scholarship,” says Trudy Sakaguchi.
“It had an effect on my studies, giving me a sense of obligation.”
Encouraging students to persevere is precisely the intent of the Masao and Michiko Okasako Scholarship at UH Maui College.
“Life may have thrown me a curveball, but I stuck to my studies because I had a scholarship, and I’m determined to finish college,” Sakaguchi says.
Michiko Okasako established the fund in honor of her son, Neil Hajime Okasako, a Maui College graduate who suffered his entire life with ectodermal dysplasia, a sweat gland disorder.
Although his condition caused him discomfort, Neil was an active member of the community and an employee of the Hawai‘i state legislature until he died in 2005 at age 53.
Michiko established scholarship funds at UH Mānoa and UH Maui College to support students like Neil, who aspire to college educations despite their disabilities.
Sakaguchi’s learning differences mean difficulty with written expression and reading. “Before I began college, I felt segregated from my friends,” she says.
“Those feelings are still there sometimes, but I keep my chin up. I accept my differences, and I make use of my school’s accommodations.”
Yvonne Ladera, another recipient of the Okasako Scholarship, was diagnosed with dyslexia three years after graduating high school.
“I struggle with reading, and I’m dealing with depression,” she says.
“I took time away from college to figure out what I wanted to do, but I returned in 2013 to focus on business. Now there is much more support for students like me, and my friends give me props for my growth and effort.”
“My parents and I are very grateful for this scholarship,” says Ladera. “It paid for my books and some of my classes, and I’m on track to graduate in 2020. I really want to open my own business.”
Sakaguchi, Ladera and other students in the UH Maui College community understand that higher education can be an uphill struggle, but they thrive with support from their school and from benefactors like Michiko Okasako.
“One reason I’m working hard at getting my bachelor’s degree is to let people know that if I can do it, so can they,” says Sakaguchi.
“You may have a learning disability, but it doesn’t matter because the key to success is putting your mind to it. Anything is possible.”