Keanu Kikau was raised by his grandparents in Waikoloa on the Big Island of Hawai’i, as part of a community of elders who had survived life on the sugar plantations. Each family would produce something to trade, such as growing mangoes, or raising goats for milk or meat. Kikau’s family had a chicken farm, contributing eggs to the community.
“Money was tight, but people in the community would help each other out,” he said.
While he was growing up, Kikau’s grandparents starting showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, and he began helping with their care. After securing their blessing to come to Colorado State University five years ago, Kikau will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family studies, the first in his family to go to college.
While at CSU, he has continued to serve as one of his grandparents’ main caregivers from afar, organizing medical appointments and finances and communicating with their nursing team and social workers.
“My family speaks Hawaiian Pidgin, a form of English which is native to Hawai’i,” said Kikau.
This experience has inspired Kikau’s career interests. He wants to eventually become a medical professional to help people with communication and health challenges that they face.
“My passion came from the caregiving experience that I had,” said Kikau. “I saw how communication does work for some communities, specifically communities of lower-income backgrounds and communities of color, people who are not traditional English speakers. I want to try to break down barriers to those lines of communication.”
In 2017, he lost his grandmother to the disease. Kikau said his professors and advisers in the Department of Human Development and Family Studies were there for him to talk to through his grief during a very difficult time. He is also thankful for how the staff in the Vice President for Student Affairs office have seen him through many challenging times during the four years he has worked there.
Kikau also helped pilot the first-generation mentoring program in the HDFS department.
“I have this extra need to give back, especially with all of the challenges I have had,” said Kikau. “I am glad to have met my mentee and pass on some of the knowledge that I have acquired during my time as an undergraduate student to him.”
“I have this extra need to give back, especially with all of the challenges I have had.”
— Keanu Kikau, outstanding grad
Kikau has been accepted to the Master of Public Health program through the Colorado School of Public Health.
“Through the good and bad and ups and downs, I’ve never regretted coming to CSU, so much so that a group of friends and I have committed to coming back once we’ve achieved our highest level of education to contribute to the students here,” said Kikau. “I’ll offer time, resources, and connections to the next generation if I can.”