After nearly two fascinating, exciting and ultimately unforgettable years as the debut opinion editor of Civil Beat, I’ll walk out of the office today for the last time as a member of the incredible team behind this groundbreaking, award-winning news organization.

These have been two of the most satisfying years of my career, which began in journalism, continued in higher education communications and took me back to the news media in early 2015. Believe me, I know how fortunate I am to have been able to go back and forth between these worlds, an opportunity that is afforded few other professionals.

But now I leave again to return to academia — and the mainland — in perhaps the most exciting post I’ve held in higher education. More on that later, because first, I want to talk about this amazing place.

Late afternoons on Sandy Beach are one of the many simple pleasures that have made living on Oahu so wonderful for the author.
Late afternoons on Sandy Beach were one of the many simple pleasures that have made living on Oahu so wonderful. Todd Simmons

Hawaii has been a dream for me and my family. I’ve had the good fortune of working with and knowing people deeply involved in charting the future for Hawaii that it so richly deserves. From my late friend, Congressman Mark Takai, to state Rep. Chris Lee, the force behind Hawaii’s clean energy law and a champion of LGBT equality, to Pierre Omidyar — not only Civil Beat’s publisher, but a deeply principled man, quietly using his time and treasure for good in profound, lasting ways — I’ve been blessed to work with so many people who deeply care about these islands and their people.

Perhaps the defining moment of what it has meant to me to live in the Aloha State came in 2013, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie courageously called a special session of the state Legislature to consider a marriage equality bill. Despite loud threats and ugly harassment from opponents of the measure, legislators overwhelmingly passed the bill, making Hawaii one of America’s only states to do so by legislative action, rather than through the courts.

I will never forget how it felt to stand in the Capitol Rotunda with thousands of others after the final vote, knowing that our state’s elected officials were representing me and my family in their bold action, taken 1½ years before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges case.

Truly, aloha was extended that night to Hawaii’s LGBT people.

My husband and I got our marriage license on the first day they became available, and held a small ceremony in our home later that month, with our two incredible sons serving as our best men. Afterward, we took photos on Oahu’s southeastern shores, just adjacent to Sandy Beach — pictures we’ll always treasure of the day our family was given the legal recognition, blessing and protection it always deserved.

Leading Through Our Values, Actions

That moment was two decades in the making, tracing its origins back to the historic Hawaii Supreme Court decision ruling the state marriage law unconstitutional for its discriminatory nature against same-sex couples — a national first.

That’s the Hawaii I’ve come to know — a place that stands for equality, for fairness, for pono actions and respect for kuleana. A place that accepts the challenge of leadership where its values are involved.

It’s the state that during my time here — nearly five years in all — elected one of the first two women combat veterans to Congress, Tulsi Gabbard (who was also the first Hindu and first Samoan American in Congress). The second veteran, Tammy Duckworth, who graduated from high school and college in Honolulu, was historically elected to the U.S. Senate by the voters of Illinois on Tuesday. And Duckworth joins Hawaii Sen. Mazie Hirono in the Senate, the first Asian American woman elected to that body.

That’s the Hawaii I’ve come to know — a place that stands for equality, for fairness, for pono actions and respect for kuleana.

Hawaii was the first state, in 2015, to pass legislation committing to complete reliance on clean, renewable energy by 2045 — an ambitious goal, one that will serve this state, its environment and its people well. It also legalized medical marijuana dispensaries last year, after having been one of the very first to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 2000.

Hawaii became the first American state to ban highway billboards (back in 1927, long before statehood) and is one of only four to outlaw the garish displays to this day. Coming from a state where every square inch of sight line is replete with ugly, relentless roadside signage (looking at you, Florida), I’ve deeply appreciated the breathtaking beauty of Hawaii that I’ve been fortunate to see, unfettered, on my daily commute and in travels around Oahu, the Big Island and Maui.

Hawaii should always take great pride in these important firsts and many others; they make an important statement about the collective values of this diverse state and the nature of its people.

Why would I leave such a paradise? Throughout my life, I’ve tried to stretch and grow, as I’ve moved from opportunity to opportunity in a career that later this month will take me to the fourth state I’ve lived in as an adult.

But the chance to return to higher education and lead a communications team at an outstanding research institution that also happens to be the nation’s largest historically black university, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, was one I could not pass up.

Located in Greensboro — home of the lunch counter protest movement launched by NCA&T students in 1960 that played a major role in building national support for the civil rights movement — it’s an exceptional university, one that shares the values of inclusion, regard for diversity and a sort of Southern version of aloha that have made Hawaii such a comfortable place for me and my family.

So, like too many other haoles, I’m leaving Hawaii just a few years after having arrived; the intervening time sadly feels as though it passed in the blink of an eye.

But I take so much with me. Last weekend, we spent a lazy Sunday morning on the North Shore. Today, I enjoyed a kalua pig lunch at Highway Inn in Kakaako. The next two weeks will include more of the same, as I try to imprint on my brain and my heart sights, tastes, sounds and feelings that I never want to forget. Things like:

  • Quiet afternoons on Waimanalo and Sandy beaches, watching my boys boogie board, surf and make new friends;
  • The view from Koko Crater, and enjoying it with others who earned the privilege through that steep, 1,200-foot trek to the top;
  • Being called “uncle” by our sons’ friends and warmly embraced in our community by other parents, kids and friends who are part of our Honolulu ohana;
  • Nights in Waikiki, many of them spent enjoying the fantastic open-air view of Queens Beach and the Honolulu Zoo from Hula’s Bar & Lei Stand;
  • The unforgettable generosity of Hawaii’s people, from a bus driver on the Big Island who told endless stories of our islands’ past to the head of my sons’ after-school program — an auntie who will forever be in our hearts;
  • Hawaii’s indefatigable LGBT community that has helped make this state one of the nation’s best in its warm embrace of its gay, bi and trans sons and daughters.

And most of all, the team here at Civil Beat — an exceptional bunch, deeply committed to the public affairs reporting and investigative journalism that they practice so well every day. I’ve been fortunate to call them colleagues these past two years, but even more lucky to call them friends, each and every one.

I hope you’ll keep supporting their fine work, long after I’m gone, and keep contributing to this grand and growing journalistic enterprise whose impact continues to deepen and serve Honolulu so well.

I’ll miss it, but you can bet I’ll be reading from thousands of miles away. Aloha ʻoe.

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