By Theresa Matthiesen – Reporter
Most Clark students are under 30, exploring their options for education and careers. However, if you walk the campus, you’ll see many who don’t fit that mold. A few students share their stories.
Imagine your life has gone pretty much as planned. You graduated from college with your bachelor’s degree. You have a good job and are married with kids.
That’s what Aaron Helenihi had at age 35. He traveled through Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana as a corporate liaison for Toyota until March 2009, when a general manager noticed how ill he looked. Helenihi said he found himself in the emergency room with blood sugar levels at 606 and a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. He said if he had tried to fly home as planned, he likely would have died.
Helenihi said his stress from his responsibilities at work increased throughout 2011.
“[I thought] ‘My god, I might die if I don’t stop this,’” he said.
He said he resigned to stay home with his kids, making sure they kept on track with their education.
Then, he said, in 2014 his mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
“That’s what did it for me,” he said. “You look at life differently. Money is money, but time is the most valuable thing because you can’t get it back. I look at that now with my family; what if it happens tomorrow?”
He said now that his kids are older, he’s come to Clark as a student and participates Clark-sponsored nonprofit groups. He said he’s also on the board of the May Day festival, teaches workshops for the “Three Days of Aloha” event and attends powwows. He said the college reaches out to the community and is very committed to helping students succeed, which “made me decide, ‘you know what, I think I’m gonna go back to school and see if I can do something else now,’” he said.
Helenihi is registered for Fall quarter accounting classes. He said he chose accounting because it’s a personal strength he never pursued academically and it will prove useful in his work with the nonprofit groups while launching his new career and saving money for his kids’ college tuition.
“I just thought, ‘I better try to figure out how to reinvent myself so I can help pay off their student loans,’” he said, laughing.