Maui News

Chef Sheldon Offers Words of Advice to Class of 2021 “Always Put Extra Aloha… “

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2021 UHMC Commencement highlights. Video courtesy: Malika Dudley. Edit by Wendy Osher

An estimated 600 students graduated from the University of Hawai’i Maui College on Saturday, June 5, with 121 UH Center students earning degrees.  The ceremony was the only face-to-face 2021 graduation in the University system, of ten campuses, this year. The event was separated into two parts to allow for safety measures.

UHMC chancellor Lui Hokoana. Photo Courtesy UH Maui College

“This is the first large gathering since the pandemic,” said chancellor Lui Hokoana. “It signals that we are returning to some semblance of normalcy.”

Both ceremonies began with a processional. Chef Sheldon Simeon, who is a graduate of the Culinary Arts Program – was the keynote speaker for the evening ceremony.  The restauranteur and owner of Tin Roof restaurant in Kahului said, “What a year to be graduating. You’ve endured hardship, you’ve been handed more than your share, you’ve been brave, smart and resilient in this scary world. If you have made it through this last school year, most things are going to feel pretty gravy here on out,” said Simeon.

The commencement speaker at the late afternoon ceremony was, arguably, the Culinary Arts Program’s most “famous” graduate, Chef Sheldon Simeon. The owner with his wife, Janice, of Tin Roof in Kahului, alumnus of Bravo’s “Top Chef” (two-time Fan Favorite) and author of the new cookbook “Cook Real Hawai‘i,” donned his UHMC Culinary Arts chef’s coat for the first time in two decades. PC: UH Maui College

“The Class of 2020 might have been the ones associated with the pandemic in the history books, but you are the real troopers. You toughed this thing out for an entire school year. Sure, most of you may have done it in your pajamas… but you still made it to the finish line, and that’s what counts,” he said.

It’s been 20 years since Chef Sheldon wore his University of Hawaiʻi chef coat, but he did so on Saturday as he reflected upon the two decades that have passed since the coat came off. “In 20 years I’ve managed to open up a few restaurants, I’ve competed on a little show called Top Chef a few times, I’ve cooked around the world, married my beautiful wife, and brought four of the most amazing children a father could ever ask for into this world.”

“But through it all, one thing remains the same–the lessons I learned right here on this very campus that have helped me and continue to guide me on this crazy journey they call life.”


“So although this might look like a simple chef’s coat to you, to some it symbolizes much more than that for me. Originally my teachers told me I should be a marine biologist because my grades were ‘below C-level.’ True story. Another told me I should be an astronaut because I only take up space,” said Simeon.

“But eventually, I realized that if I started to use the skills I was learning and began to actually apply myself, I would gain confidence in what I was doing. That confidence became my fuel and my motivation tank. It took some time to put all of this together, but it reminds me of a not so ancient, not so Hawaiian proverb–you still can get to Hāna on a tricycle, it just takes a little longer,” he said.

Simeon offered words of advice to the graduating class saying, “never skimp on the Aloha,” “lesson two, give your best to the ones that matter the most,” and “last but not least, example C, always keep working. Work ’em hard. Work as hard as you can. I wouldn’t be where I am today without following this last rule. Never stop striving to greatness. When you have your head in the game, opportunity will come your way. If you spend all your time looking for chances, and not actually taking them, the chance could never come. When you work hard at something, the right people tend to take notice.”


“You all made it though a literal pandemic, so I’m pretty sure you have this last rule covered,” said Simeon.

“Remember, give your best, work hard, be kind, and always put extra aloha… and patis,” said Simeon with a laugh.

Streaming coverage of both ceremonies is available for viewing on Youtube and Facebook.

2021 commencement ceremonies. (6.5.21) PC: UH Maui College
Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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