Herman Damien Leilehua Lujan ’58 was in the first seminar of his master’s program at UC Berkeley, waiting for Professor Peter Odegaard to arrive. Odegaard was a nationally recognized political science scholar whose book “Religion and Politics” was a pioneering study of the role of special interest groups in American politics. Lujan’s thesis would focus on the composition of political parties in Hawai’ian politics.
So, there I sat, another of Brother Albert Rahill’s recruits, in a sea of Harvard’s and Yale’s best and brightest faces, their anticipation tingling and mine buried in fear. We were all waiting to face Dr. Peter Odegaard, arguably one of the world’s best political scientists. It was the voice of wisdom facing the siblings of privilege — and the hesitant and unsure son of a small village on the north coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i ready to challenge the elite.
Odegaard began the seminar by asking if anyone knew what the square of opposition was. There was a long hiatus punctuated by silence. But I knew this stuff. I had it in philosophy class at Saint Mary’s! It was a way of structuring logic and argument. Emerging from the facade of timidity, I raised my hand and defined the structure as Aristotle would. Odegaard approved and I emerged from the face of anonymity to an invitation to meet with him after seminars for an occasional dinner and regular chats about the theories of politics and the models of learning. In class, I dueled my way past his criticisms and discussions about the paraphernalia and witticisms of learning in political science.
My growth and self-confidence emerging, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. degree. But the graduate adviser at Berkeley discouraged me, arguing that my 3.5 grade point average at Saint Mary’s was not comparable to grades at Berkeley. Beaten down but not out, I went to Odegaard. He encouraged me to go ahead, as I had established my competence with him. I also talked with Victor Ferkiss, a Saint Mary’s political science professor, who chuckled and told me to apply to several schools and he would send recommendations. With Odegaard and Ferkiss behind me, I received a National Defense Education Act award from The University of Idaho that would cover all of my costs. Married and with three children, I accepted.
Two years later on a sunny day in early June of 1964 I graduated with my Ph.D. from the University of Idaho. My dissertation was an empirical study of the demographic basis of the Idaho electorate, using statistics to analyze political parties and methods for predicting election outcomes.
My parents and sister were able to join us on the day I received my degree. The ’ohana from north Hilo watched their son become a learned and good man, the attributes expected of a scholar in kanaka (Hawai’ian) culture. These attributes also helped me to become a university faculty member, department chair, institute director in environmental studies, vice president, vice provost, provost and president. On May 23, 1992, Saint Mary’s awarded me the degree Doctor of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa. I had made the ‘ohana proud beyond their dreams — and mine — thanks to Saint Mary’s.