From inmate to graduate: A HonCC success story

By Chanelle Amoguis
Davida Aila’s bright smile overshadows a personal past of drugs and hardship.
Proudly wearing a light green HonCC shirt, Aila, a female welder and a non-traditional student, has overcome unexpected trials in her life in order to finally graduate from HonCC.
“I was in prison for a total of, with work furlough, about seven years,” Aila began. “I went to mainland [for] everything. So during that time I was locked up – you know, staying busy was really important in there. You can either be one lazy bum and just stay in your cell or your cube 23 hours a day, or you could actually do something and I was one of those that did stuff. So I wanted a job in the facility. I chose to do that. I was part of the outside workline and that’s where I realized that I really enjoyed being outside and doing hard work.”
Aila first attended HonCC in 2014, a year after being officially released from prison. Like many incoming freshmen, Aila had her fears attending college for the first time.
“I left high school with a point six G.P.A. I was scared I was going to be the oldest one there,” Aila said.
However, it was through joining programs and clubs on the HonCC campus that Aila was able to take the right path for the betterment of her future.
Through a close friend, Aila became greatly involved with programs such as CARE, TRiO-SSS, Hulili ke Kukui Hawaiian Center, and Phi-Theta Kappa.
“It’s like in school, I surround myself with people who are like-minded, so [in the] CARE office, everybody’s like-minded; the overachievers [of] Phi Theta Kappa; scholars and I just carry on in the same way as I do out there,” Aila said.
Despite Aila’s hardworking and positive attitude, she still went through many of the same struggles as other students.

“Physics was the hardest. If you look at my transcripts, it’s all A’s, and then I get one spackling of maybe two B’s, right – fabulous – and you see one C…Physics.
“Class was very difficult. It felt like he (the instructor) was speaking another language to me and I just scraped by with a C – dropped my GPA. You know, [I was] somebody with a .6 GPA to actually care about her GPA in college.”
Aila joined HonCC for its two-year welding program that allowed her to pursue a career that best suited her. Of the many majors offered to home-based HonCC students, 2.26% of students are part of the welding program.
“Somewhere along the way somebody told me I couldn’t. ‘Women no can do that, that’s a man’s job,’ ” Aila said. “When somebody tells me ‘no,’ I show you, brah. It’s like, that mentally is, [but] it is what it is and that’s how my college began.”

For many community college students, the next step after graduation is to attend the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Graduations in the state of Hawaii are a significant event in comparison to graduations in the mainland. Parents and loved ones gather to witness the auspicious event for the graduates. HonCC is home to a total of 3503 students as of February 13, 2017.

However for Davida Aila, graduation leads to an open path in the work field where she is currently deciding which job offer to take.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Aila with a far-off look on her face. “It’s bittersweet because I’ve become so accustomed with the campus and the faces, and by working with CARE being part of the program, I’ve created bonds. And so it’s kinda like I don’t get to see their faces anymore. But it is exciting. This is the first time I’m ever graduating.”

When asked about her current situation in life, Davida said, “I feel pretty good. I feel that I’m in a place that could really help people who are in my situation as far as felons and drug addicts, mothers who left their children… I’m in a place where I think I’m in a good example where life can change. Definitely feel more mature when I started. I feel more motivated too about life.”

“When I started in 2014 i didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know what was going on. And all of a sudden, “boom” – you’re graduating. I was like, ‘what?’ I didn’t think about the process. I just knew where I wanted to go and I think me keeping my eye on that helped to pull me through.”