By John Grennan
Senior Brandon Elefante’s journey to Moraga was long and involved some cultural adjustment.
A Hawaii native, Elefante is the first in his family, and one of a handful of students from his large public high school, who traveled more than 2,000 miles across the Pacific for school.
Although the extroverted Elefante quickly made friends and integrated into campus life, he was homesick his freshman year.
“The first year was the hardest,” he remembers. “It helped to have a scholarship (a John A. and Mary M. Sabatte scholarship) — it encouraged me and made me more focused.”
Mindful of the challenges Hawaiian students face — including the different pace of life outside the islands and the long distance from home — Elefante and other students founded Humans Actively Practicing Aloha (HAPA). The organization celebrates Hawaiian culture and includes both Hawaii natives and mainland students.
“It’s great for Hawaiian students to know that there’s a resource here, to realize that you’re not the only one,” he says. “It makes me happy to know that new students won’t have to work as hard.”
He and other HAPA leaders hosted the College’s first lu’au in May, drawing more than 150 people to an evening of Hawaiian food, music and dancing. The club is preparing for another lu’au next spring.
Saint Mary’s has proven to be a perfect fit for Elefante. A business major, he served as the Collegian business manager his junior year, handling a $30,000 budget and bringing in ads to support the paper. As a resident advisor, he’s drawn from his own experience of adjusting to a new place to help other students feel more at home.
Elefante says his leadership roles at HAPA and the Collegian have prepared him well for a career in business.
“It’s been like running a small company. I’ve definitely learned skills that I wouldn’t have learned at home.”