Undergraduate Commencement Speaker Proves It’s Never Too Late for Education


Courtesy of Joseph Carrero

Joseph (Keahi) Carrero has been chosen as the Spring 2018 undergraduate commencement speaker.

Joseph (Keahi) Carrero is a proud husband and father of two. The 49-year-old served in the Marine Corps and the Honolulu Police Department. He’s worked as a foreman, a substitute teacher, and has held a variety of managerial positions. But come May, he will be graduating with his bachelor’s degrees in history and political science, and will serve as Chaminade University’s undergraduate commencement speaker.

“When my wife graduated from the AA program at LCC [Leeward Community College], there were a couple speakers at their ceremony that really inspired me with their stories, inspired me with their courage,” Carrero said. “And I thought if I have the opportunity, I’d like to do that as well. Deliver a personal message and thank individuals for their role in my life.”

Carrero is not the average college graduate. He’s had to juggle a family and a full-time job while going to school for the last two years at CUH. Yet, he managed to maintain a 3.91 cumulative GPA while earning his two degrees. His abundance of life experience, aloha spirit, and academic excellence earned him the honor of being selected as the undergraduate commencement speaker.

This year is a milestone for the Carrero family, with three graduations to celebrate. Joseph’s wife, Leilani Carrero, will be graduating with her bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Hawaii in December, and his 18-year-old son Christian will be graduating from Waianae High School. Lily, 19, is completing her first year of college at the University of Hawaii.

“When you see your kids coming up not far behind you, you realize the example you have to be,” said Leilani Carrero.

Carrero, who graduated from Waianae High School in 1987, began to consider college after facing obstacles in the workplace. A few years prior to starting school at Chaminade, he worked as an assistant manager at City Mill and was the marketing manager at Servco East Honolulu. Despite his work ethic and years of experience, Carrero was never able to advance to higher positions because he lacked a college education, so he set out to change that.

But beyond workplace challenges, Carrero’s primary motivation for going back to school so late in life was his family. Both he and his wife of 20 years resolved to get their degrees as their children began to approach college age.

“I believe education changes you,” he said. “I believe education allows you to dream bigger dreams and equips you with the tools to achieve.”

So, two years ago, Carrero began his journey at Chaminade as a student in the PACE (Professional and Continuing Education) program. The PACE program, which caters to non-traditional students, was perfect for the working father. With the support of his family, he was able to thrive.

“I think that nobody had ever really believed in him before or given him the hope that he could do whatever he set his mind to,” Leilani Carrero said. “Identifying that barrier, overcoming it, watching him not only create these goals, but smash them out of the ballpark, is really satisfying.”

Auditioning for the role of undergraduate commencement speaker in mid-March was serendipitous for Carrero. In search of paperwork unrelated to auditions in the CUH Business Office, Carrero accidentally connected with Teresa Fujino, a contributing organizer of graduation, who encouraged him to try out.

“I saw that as a sign,” Carrero said. “If this path is being made straight, I’ll give it my best effort.”

Through his speech on May 14, he hopes to deliver a personal message to both his fellow graduates and the audience about the importance of relationships. The graduate’s speech will be predicated on a quote he once heard from an old friend: “Shared burden is half a burden, and shared joy is double joy.”

“I know how much [my fellow graduates] put into this in order to earn this degree,” Carrero said. “It wasn’t given to anyone. We worked hard for it. Not even knowing a lot of them, I respect them for that. I believe they are people of character, and I’m grateful to be counted amongst them.”

Carrero has big dreams for the future following graduation. He has been accepted into Chaminade’s education graduate program and hopes to one day attend law school so that he can reform education laws for Hawaii’s keiki.

“Education should be paramount, and it’s not,” the father of two said. “To me, that’s a travesty. So that’s something I want to change.”

He hopes that the combination of his future master’s degree in education and law degree will allow him to realize his goal of joining the state legislature.

Carrero recognizes that as a college graduate with more life experience, graduation will be one of many memorable moments in his life. Nothing could ever surpass his children’s births, but he is excited to celebrate this proud moment that is only his.

“His faith in God making his path straight, allowing these blessings to fall into place, allowing people to come in our path,” Leilani Carrero said. “Him being the commencement speaker is the culmination of his hard work.”

Carrero’s speech will be delivered at commencement on Monday, May 14, at the Neal Blaisdell Arena at 7 p.m. Seat availability is on a first-come, first-serve basis. No tickets are required to attend.