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A skeptic turns believer

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For someone who once didn’t believe in the power of higher education, Tiare Sabellano-Tsutsui has just earned an impressive academic accolade. The graduating CSS senior in the Honors Program, who will earn a bachelor’s degree in Psychology, was selected as student speaker at UH Mānoa’s 2022 Commencement ceremony to be held Friday, May 13.

Sabellano-Tsutsui remembers how, when she graduated from Pearl City High in 2011, she went straight to work for seven years. “After a lifetime of believing I wasn’t good enough for college, I entered Kapiʻolani CC before transferring to UH Mānoa,” said the 28-year-old Wahiawā resident. “I instantly fell in love with higher education.”

At UH, Sabellano-Tsutsui became the epitome of an involved student – serving as a tutor, peer mentor, academic coach and teacher assistant. She was an editor for both KCC and UH Mānoa student journals; developed and hosted Zen mindfulness classes via Zoom for KCC students during COVID-19’s impactful first semester; and worked as a research assistant for faculty in psychology, psychiatry and public health. In addition, she volunteered weekly for the UH Mānoa Prison Education Project – co-teaching Positive Psychology and developing mindful awareness exercises and lessons for inmates at Hawai‘i correctional facilities.

Off campus, she is a black-belt sensei in karate; likes to try different sushi restaurants; and keeps fit and agile by practicing traditional Chinese lion dance. She hopes to enjoy a fun summer before joining the master’s program in Fall 2022 at the UH Thompson School of Social Work and Public Health. After that, she is determined to earn a PhD in social welfare, then start a non-profit organization or become a university faculty member.

As Commencement student speaker, what is her message to fellow graduates? “With everything going on in our world, these times call for individuals like us to rise and become the best versions of ourselves for humanity,” said Sabellano-Tsutsui. “May the breath of Mānoa be always at our backs as we venture forth into this great unknown we call life.”