Big Island mayor to keynote UH Hilo spring commencement

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Alyson Kakugawa-Leong, (808) 974-7642
Dir, Media Rel, University Relations
Posted: May 3, 2010

Hawaiʻi County Mayor William P. (Billy) Kenoi will deliver the keynote address at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo spring commencement on Saturday, May 15, 9 a.m., at Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium.

A total of 476 students have petitioned for various degrees and/or certificates. The undergraduates and their respective colleges include: College of Arts and Sciences (373), Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management (14), Business and Economics (24) and Ka Haka ʻUla O Keʻelikolani College of Hawaiian Language (21). Another 44 students are candidates for various post-graduate honors.

Kenoi was born in Kalapana and graduated from Hilo’s Waiakea High School in 1986. He spent three semesters at Hawaiʻi Community College and UH Hilo from 1989-1990. Through the National Student Exchange Program, Kenoi gained entry to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and graduated in 1993 as a member of the UMASS Political Science Honor Society. Kenoi subsequently returned home to earn his law degree from UH Manoa’s William S. Richardson School of Law in 1996.

After passing the bar exam on his first attempt, Kenoi launched his legal career by joining Oʻahu Circuit Judge Richard Perkins as a law clerk. He then went to work in the Office of the Public Defender, serving in the Appellate, District Court, Juvenile Criminal, Adult Family and Circuit Court Divisions.

Kenoi got his first taste of politics while enrolled at UMASS Amherst when he went to work as a congressional intern in the Washington D.C. Office of Hawaiʻi U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye. He later served as a legislative aide for the state house and senate in Honolulu. In 2001, he returned to the Big Island after being appointed an executive assistant by then Mayor Harry Kim.

For the next seven years, Kenoi handled a wide range of high level assignments, including establishment of the “Healing Our Island” grant program, coordinating the county’s “War on Ice,” securing funds for the island’s mass transit program and creating the Coqui Frog Community Grant and County Loan Sprayer program. In 2007, he was recognized by Hawaiʻi Business Magazine as one of “25 people who will shape Hawaiʻi over the next 25 years.”

Kenoi resigned his position in 2008 after entering the race for Big Island mayor and went on to win election with more than 55 percent of the vote. He officially assumed office in December of that year.

Laʻakea Yoshida, a history major focusing on European history, with a minor in anthropology, is student speaker. Yoshida, who has maintained a cumulative GPA of 3.8, has earned numerous academic honors including the College of Arts and Sciences Dean’s Scholarship, the CAS Dean’s List, the first ever UH Hilo Ambassador Grant, the Vulcan Leadership Award for Outstanding Scholar, the UH Hilo History Department’s Outstanding Student Writing Award, Kamehameha Schools’ Na Hoʻokama a Pauahi Scholarship, and Who’s Who Among American Colleges and Universities.

Yoshida is president of the UH Hilo Chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, (Alpha Beta Omicron) The National History Honor Society, and was part of a five-member team that competed in March at the Society’s regional conference at UH Mānoa. Yoshida’s paper, “Bloodline Accession and Gifted Power: Nero Claudius Drusus and the Struggle to Define Heir ship in Rome During the Reign of Tiberius,” was voted Best Undergraduate Paper. It was the second time Yoshida captured that award after first winning it in 2008.

Yoshida is scheduled to enter Oxford University in October, where he was admitted earlier this year as a master of philosophy candidate in Roman and Greek history. He is believed to be the first history major from UH Hilo ever admitted to the prestigious United Kingdom institution.

For more information on commencement, contact Judith Fox-Goldstein at (808) 974-7555 or email For special accommodations, contact Susan Shirachi at (808) 933-0816 (V) or (808) 933-3334 (TTY). Requests should be made at least 10 business days prior to the event.