Mayor tells grads “no sked ’em, go get ’em”

Video by David Corrigan

Saturday’s UH-Hilo graduation featured Big Island mayor Billy Kenoi as the honored keynote address for the event.

Kenoi entertained the crowd with his patented mix of humor and inspiration, and said that true success is showing kindness, compassion and aloha. He stressed that life is does not have to be that complicated, and said that everyone wants to “make it out like it is chess, but its really just checkers.”

Many island residents are familiar with the Kalapana-born Kenoi’s path through law school and eventual political office, and the university provided a detailed biography in the days before the commencement.

Kenoi was born in Kalapana and graduated from Hilo’s Waiakea High School in 1986. He spent three semesters at Hawai`i 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 O`ahu 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 Hawai`i 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 Hawai`i Business Magazineas one of “25 people who will shape Hawai`i 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.