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First dual-credit Kapiʻolani graduate delivers commencement address in American Sign Language

Maximillian Soares Miehlstein has a unique and unconventional story to tell. He is the first dual-credit student to graduate from Kapiʻolani Community College. While still in high school, he took both high school and college classes, enabling him to graduate from high school and college at the same time.

At Kapiʻolani CC’s spring 2018 commencement, where he earned an associate in arts degree in deaf studies and deaf education, the 17-year-old Miehlstein delivered a speech to graduates in American Sign Language. In doing so, he celebrated the deaf community that has supported him over the years.

Louise Pagotto, interim chancellor at Kapiʻolani CC states, “Max’s accomplishment is a first for Kapiʻolani Community College and reflects his incredible dedication and commitment. We hope that Max’s success will inspire other high school students to kūlia I ka nuʻu (strive for the highest) and consider enrolling in college classes at Kapiʻolani Community College.”

Learning to be empowered

Miehlstein was exposed to deafness and disability since birth. His father is a quadriplegic, and his mother provided infinite guidance and understanding. From his father, Miehlstein learned that a disability does not have to be disabling; in fact, it can be empowering.

Miehlstein was homeschooled until the latter half of his middle school years, when he began attending La Pietra School for Girls, then transferred to Assets High School. He changed his name and clothes, and began to live as Max.

At 15, Miehlstein felt bored and realized he needed to be challenged. He considered Kapiʻolani CC because of the smaller class size and campus community. Because of his age, he could not obtain a GED or drop out of school, so his mother found Running Start—a dual-credit program at Kaimukī High School that would allow Max to be registered in high school while taking classes at Kapiʻolani CC.

Finding his place

Miehlstein thrived at Kapiʻolani CC—he got a job at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped, and his academic load was a perfect fit. His first semester, he had what he calls an “easy” four classes. He then took six classes the next two semesters and finished his last semester with seven classes, graduating with honors.

He continues to work at the library and volunteers at the Hawaiʻi School for the Deaf and Blind. This fall, he is transferring to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where he was awarded a Presidential Scholarship and accepted into the Honors Program. For his interdisciplinary degree, he will focus on disability studies with a psychology and sociology background. Miehlstein looks forward to working with people with who have disabilities and neurological differences.

In his commencement speech, Miehlstein recognized many individuals who have supported him in his journey, especially his mother. He is grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue his goals and to succeed. At the UH Regents and Presidential Scholarship dinner, he was given a poster with a quote from his application essay: “When we celebrate diversity, we acknowledge each other’s differences and respect who we are as individuals.”

Original Story

University of Hawai‘i Alumni