When Terrence A. Dela Peña was selected to be the Winter 2021 Commencement student speaker, his mentor, Jennifer Kajiyama Tinkham, said she knew he was the perfect student to represent BYU–Hawaii.
Tinkham, an adjunct assistant professor in the Faculty of Business & Government, said, “There are so many wonderful students [on campus], but I think he is a perfect representative of the type of student we want to get to be an ambassador for BYU–Hawaii and to speak on behalf of the students.”
Dela Peña said before coming to BYUH, his dream was just to graduate, but he has accomplished so much more. “With this opportunity to speak and at the same time … graduating as summa cum laude, I think it’s just a great blessing,” he shared.
Due to his academic achievements, Tinkman said, Dela Peña got accepted to a prestigious internship in his home country. "Terrence applied for a very competitive internship in the U.S. Consulate in the Philippines and he got a position." She said he is one of the few students from BYUH who got accepted to the internship. However, Dela Peña explained he was unable to intern there and chose to accept another internship in the Philippines, due to how long the internship’s clearance process took.
Tinkham said she first met Dela Peña when he was a freshman taking one of her political science classes. “I knew right away he was very academically talented and smart.”
Family support and sacrifice
Dela Peña, a senior from Antipolo City, Philippines, majoring in political science, said his mother, Myrna Liza Aboguin Dela Peña, is a single parent who raised him and his two sisters. “She became our mother and father at the same time. She works hard, and she really helps me understand what hard work means.”
Because his mother was the only provider in his family, he said his sisters gave up pursuing college and worked together with their mother to help him get through college. “On my end, … it’s very hard for me because I’m the only guy in the family. I’m the one who’s supposed to be helping them and supporting them.”
He said his family's dream is for both him and his sisters to get an education and a good job and he is accomplishing part of that. He said if he can get an education, then “I will be able to help my family get out of poverty. So they believed in me, they trusted in me and … that motivated me to study hard in college,” he explained.
His wife, Ana Katrina Fugaban-Dela Peña, is a senior from Isabela, Philippines, studying social work and TESOL. She said, “I just hope my mother-in-law is here [when he graduates] so he can honor her for all of her sacrifices as a single mother.”
Throughout his time at BYUH, Dela Peña said he was summa cum laude, consistently on the Dean’s List, president of Prelaw Society, president of Pi Sigma Alpha BYU–Hawaii Chapter and inducted to Phi Kappa Phi.
Dela Peña said part of his commencement speech will address the uncertainties graduates are going to face because of the pandemic and hate crimes going on in the world. “I know there are a lot of things we don’t understand, [and] there are a lot … of decisions we need to make. We’re not sure about what’s going to be the future for us,” he said.
But those uncertainties don’t need to be crippling, Dela Peña asserted. “As we hold on to the things that matter to us … like our family, our education or our faith in the Savior Jesus Christ, those are the things that will help us get through and deal with the uncertainty in front of us.”
Representing the graduates
Dela Peña said he didn’t expect to be chosen as the Winter 2021 graduation speaker. “I’m honored I will represent the graduating class for this commencement ceremony.”
He said BYUH’s Academics Vice President John Bell's office called him and asked if he would still be in Hawaii during the commencement. “I told them I will be here, and then they extended the invitation,” he recalled.
“It’s such an honor for me to have that opportunity. … The first thing I did after I received the news was I talked to my wife and shared the news to her.” They were both so happy about it, he added.
Ana Katrina Fugaban-Dela Peña said, “Last year, I was joking around and told him he’ll be the graduation speaker. He didn’t believe it until the call came. I am so proud of him.”
His reasons why
Dela Peña and his wife are both full-time students and are raising two boys, Richard, their 4-year-old son, and Kyle, their 2-year-old son. He said it is not easy to be a parent, work part time and be a full-time student, but his family is the reason he can do them.
“Whenever I take an exam [or] quiz, I always think I’m doing this for my family and that their future is at stake. So that’s why that motivates me. ... [It] helps me to find some inspiration and to not give up,” he explained.
Ana Katrina Fugaban-Dela Peña said there were times her husband was discouraged, and she would remind him the reason they are doing all this is to provide a better future for their children.
She described him as hardworking, kind, humble and genuine in everything he does. She said he is their boys’ best friend. “I am so blessed to be married to a man who loves and respects me as a daughter of God. I am grateful to have the chance to [go] through life’s challenges with him,” she said.
Tinkham said, “[Terrence] and Ana are both so hard-working, but they also have such strong testimonies of Jesus Christ. They’re always serving other people and they represent the stories of so many international students and students in general.”
Dela Peña said he and his wife got married in the Philippines and then were both admitted at BYUH while Ana Katrina Fugaban-Dela Peña was pregnant with their first son.
The next chapter
Dela Peña said he chose political science as his major because it would help him achieve his goals. “I believe the program helps students to think deeply and critically about different topics and to learn how to communicate and write well.” He said he also wanted to learn more about how the American government works so he could use that knowledge in the Philippines.
Dela Peña’s dream is to become a foreign service officer for the Philippine government, he said. “Part of that [dream] is to equip myself with the ability to analyze policies, to learn how to write clearly and how to think critically,” he added.
He has been accepted into the master’s program for public administration at BYU in Provo. “Part of my plan is to gain experience in policy analysis and learn some management skills so when … I return back to the Philippines, I will be able to apply as a foreign service officer,” he said.
Dela Peña said he also hopes to become a lawyer and is planning to do a joint degree program for the juris doctorate and master’s in public administration at BYU in Provo.
He also received an offer to work as a research assistant for the BYU MPA program working in organizational behavior and ethics. “I think it’s a rare opportunity because I’m an undergraduate student about to become a graduate student. … I [will] work with two of the great professors, [Dr. Jeff Thompson and Dr. Brad Agle].”
You can watch graduation virtually on April 17 here.