Award-winning American Samoan graduate presents ceremonial gift to FHSU

Mariana Timu-Faiai (pronounced tee-MOOH fah-EE-ah-EE), a Fort Hays State University alumna from Pago Pago in American Samoa, presented a gift to the university this morning during a visit to the Hays campus.

Timu-Faiai dropped by the president's office and presented a tanoa to President Edward H. Hammond. A tanoa is a decorative wooden bowl used in the preparation and serving of the traditional Samoan beverage kava, made from the roots of the plant of the same name. The kava roots are crushed into a coarse powder and mixed with water by a Samoan maiden during ceremonial functions such as welcoming guests and at village meetings. The preparation and serving of kava is an art form in itself and so the significance of the tanoa goes well beyond its shape and form. Its role on formal occasions and the discussions and relationships it mediates are just as important.

"The tanoa reflects not only our customs and traditions, but more importantly represents the strength and heart of a Samoan family," she told President Hammond. "So when a tanoa is presented as a gift, it is a gift of the heart that you and yours be blessed."

In return, the president gave Timu-Faiai a ceremonial FHSU coin in appreciation for her enthusiasm as an ambassador for the university and its Virtual College. The front of the coin shows the FHSU mascot, Victor E. Tiger, the name of the university and the official slogan: "Forward thinking. World ready." The back of the coin depicts the university's oldest building, Picken Hall, with the word "Friendship" at the top and the word "Education" at the bottom.

President Hammond and Dennis King, director of the Virtual College, attended a ceremony Thursday in Colorado Springs in which Timu-Faiai received the National University Telecommunications Network Student Recognition Award.

From Colorado Springs, Timu-Faiai traveled to Hays to visit campus and meet the faculty members who inspired her throughout her bachelor's and master's degree programs. FHSU covered her travel costs to receive her award in person and to visit Hays. Only two flights go in and out of American Samoa a week, so she has to leave before Homecoming on Saturday.

Timu-Faiai seized the opportunity afforded by FHSU's Virtual College to further her educational, personal and professional goals. The island of American Samoa is literally in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean where higher education opportunities are few and far between. She earned an associate degree from American Samoa Community College. After much research, she decided to give Fort Hays State University a chance by enrolling in its Virtual College, which meant she could continue her education without having to leave the island and her family.

Timu-Faiai completed her bachelor's degree in justice studies in a year and a half. In September 2009, just when she was in the home stretch of completing a master's degree in liberal studies, her world was torn to pieces. A devastating tsunami hit the Western District of America Samoa. Her house was destroyed, causing her and her family to move in with another family for a long period of time.

Timu-Faiai persevered and completed her master's degree this spring. She wanted more than anything to be part of the commencement ceremony, but the 6,000 miles between American Samoa and Hays made it impossible at the time. So, President Hammond and Provost Larry Gould made arrangements for her to walk as an FHSU graduate at the local community college commencement in American Samoa.

 "I believe that FHSU has allowed me to reach a priceless milestone in my life," she said. "The university has helped me to be a better person overall."

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