I received the Helen Hites Scholarship for Student Success twice. The first time, I cried for two days, like I was being blessed. I wanted immediately to reach out and thank the donor.
Helen Hites and I were both single moms; our children were both in preschool. I wanted to make a life for me and my daughter, but I had no education and no work history, and I knew I needed to do something. Helen had gone back to school, and I thought if she could do it, maybe I could do it too.
I was at Helen’s graduation when she was the valedictorian. When she passed away, I decided that in memory of her, I would join Phi Theta Kappa, the honor society where she had been president. I told everyone, when I was still taking sub-100 classes like English 21 and 22, I was going to be valedictorian.
At first, my biggest obstacles were study habits and my low self-esteem. The students are so young there, and I didn’t think I knew anything. All my insecurities made it difficult, so I just got into the habit of studying extra hard. I studied six to nine hours a night because I needed to learn the material, and sometimes reading things was difficult.
Every time I had a hard semester, I got the motivation to go on because I received a scholarship and I’d be so grateful! Helen’s scholarship helped me with financial burdens, but she inspired me most because of who she was. She was doing it: single mom, going to school, getting good grades. I knew it was possible. I can do it because I watched her do it.
My advice for anyone walking my path is to put in the work. Never give up. Believe in yourself. In English 21-22, we had to memorize words and definitions. “I know nothing,” I said. “My education stopped in ninth grade.” I got index cards, and I just studied them over and over and over. That’s how I built my study habits, and later, when I was taking other classes, after my mommy duties, I would sit there and study no matter what, and it became a habit.
Today, I’m in my second semester at UH Mānoa in the human development and family studies program. I just started in June; I had to drop down to half time again because of my new job. I don’t want to stop my education, so I have to do what I have to do for now.
I work for the Hawaii Health & Harm Reduction Center, doing homeless outreach. I connect homeless people to housing, or I take them to a treatment center. Two weeks ago, we put 17 people into shelters.
I love this work. I would like to start my own nonprofit organization someday, working with homeless women and children to get them off the street. I would love to get my Ph.D.
When Kapi‘olani CC asked me to deliver the valedictorian’s speech for commencement last May, I knew I had to do it. For me and for my family, but for Helen too, to say, “Hey, Helen. I did it.”
By Tina Oh, Kapi‘olani Community College 2018 valedictorian
The story of the Helen Hites Scholarship is a love story — of a loving mother, loving daughter and beloved son/grandson. Nothing displays the power of love more poignantly than this family's response to a terrible tragedy.
Helen Hites passed in a tragic accident. She was 32, a recent graduate of Kapi‘olani Community College, a nursing student, and a single parent of a 5-year old son, Phoenix. Helen’s family and friends honored Helen’s memory with an endowed scholarship at Kapi‘olani Community College.
Helen was an active member of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, a valedictorian at KCC and spoke at her graduation ceremonies in 2012. She was in her second year of the nursing program at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.Read more