‘Be the Aloha’: A Celebration Honoring Asian and Pacific Islander Graduates

The 21st API Graduate Celebration offered an opportunity to recognize students’ unique paths. It was also a chance to celebrate their impact on the Saint Mary’s community.

by Hayden Royster | May 18, 2023
Triumph was in the air at this year’s Asian and Pacific Islander Graduate Celebration on May 13. 

As the opening trumpet blast of Verdi’s “Triumphal March” reverberated through the Chapel, 36 soon-be-graduates proceeded down the aisle, smiling shyly as they filed by a sea of cell phone cameras. Not too shyly, though—this was, after all, their moment. 

For 21 years, the Intercultural Center has coordinated this event, offering API Gaels a time to commemorate their unique trajectories. Many of those graduating are the children of immigrants; others are international students from places like China or Guam. Some are carrying on a long family tradition of higher education, while others are the first to earn their college degree.

Whatever their journey, every student that stepped up to the microphone acknowledged those who came before them. In her keynote address, Kinesiology major and Philippines rugby star Lauryn Nazareno ’23 shared the story of her grandmother’s move to the United States. After her biological grandfather was killed transporting bombs during World War II, Nazareno’s grandmother was left to raise her son alone. “As a single parent, she decided to risk everything and leave her country,” Nazareno said. 

The risk paid off. Her grandmother remarried and raised her son, Nazareno's father, in sunny San Diego County. “Fast forward to 2023, and the search for a better life became a reality: for my grandmother, my father, and now me.”

API Grad Celebration 2023
Asian and Pacific Islander grads proceeding through a sea of cell phone cameras and proud family and friends / Photo by Francis Tatem

In addition to celebrating students’ stories, the annual API Graduate Celebration honors their impact on the College. As Lindsay Nakashima ’11, the Director of Club Sports, noted in her opening remarks: “Many of our graduates here today have led student organizations, represented their ethnic identity in our community, and left their forever footprints at Saint Mary's.”

Lindsay Nakashima ’11: “Be the Aloha you wish to see in this world.” 

One such difference-maker was Ryan Quock ’23, a Biochemistry major who served as a Student Ambassador and Lasallian Peer Mentor and was honored with this year’s Student Leadership Award. Another award-winner was the College’s Director of Residence Life Samantha Alberto ’12, MA ’19: She received the Dean Grace Cardenas-Tolentino award, presented annually to a faculty or staff member who demonstrates exceptional commitment to the API community at Saint Mary's.

In her opening remarks, Nakashima encouraged the students to continue embracing their heritage. “Be rooted in your values and identity,” she said. “Continue to bloom and grow into the person you want to be, and know you are loved and valued and appreciated. 

“And lastly,” she added, “be the Aloha you wish to see in this world.” Aloha—a word that encompasses beginnings, endings, love and life. For those gathered, the event represented it all.

Check out more photos below:

READ MORE about Lauryn Nazareno and the Philippines National Rugby Team.

Can't be present for Commencement? We're live streaming! Find the details HERE.


Hayden Royster is Staff Writer at the Office of Marketing and Communications. Write him.