Rommel Marcelino, who is 57, enjoys his Religion 150 class at KCC; he’s hopeful to utilize what he’s learning in college to his everyday life. (Photo by Juri Dagio)

By Juri Dagio | Staff Writer

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, adults over the age of 35 represent approximately 11 percent of enrollment in U.S. higher education in 2020. A part of this percentage is Rommel Marcelino, a 57-year-old KCC student who has enthusiasm to learn and grow through college.

Since Marcelino doesn’t want to take the traditional route through college, he has enrolled in KCC and plans to complete his bachelor’s degree at UH Mānoa.

As a 42-year-old, Marcelino enrolled at KCC to study social work in 2007. Because of some unavoidable circumstances, he left college to travel to New York, Canada, and Singapore. But since then, he has become more strong, self-aware, and proud.

Now that he is back on his educational path at 57, he must overcome many of the challenges that many adult learners face while completing their college education. There are judgments, anxiety, and issues relating to high school English grammar and math. This may be true for some, but for Marcelino, these struggles are opportunities for improvement that will make him more likely to succeed in bigger endeavors.

“My struggle right now is doubting myself,” Marcelino said. “Everybody does that, but life is a never-ending learning process, so I always feel that through trial and error, we always learn something new.”

Marcelino, who is from National City in San Diego, California, has been living in Hawaiʻi for 30 years. Five years after he arrived on the island, he decided to be a volunteer worker for the state of Hawaiʻi. Currently, he is working on his electives for his Bachelor of Social Work at UH Mānoa. Despite this, working for a paid job in social work isn’t his main goal after college.

“When your passion becomes your job, you lose the love of it,” he said.

For 6 1/2 years, Marcelino has been a coach for the Leeward Jaguars, a group that supports the special Olympics on O’ahu. After completing his degree, he plans to work as a skills trainer in the special Olympics organization, to help children who requires special education.

For Marcelino, higher education is a place for growth. He is eager to be more knowledgeable, not just academically, but also for his personal development.

Jerica Mae Elgarico, Marcelino’s 28-year-old stepdaughter, noticed a significant difference in his personal growth after not seeing him for years.


Rommel Marcelino was featured in Volume #43 Issue 8 of Kapi’o in October 2007. (Screenshot from Kapi’o Archives)

“He’s more insightful, he is more patient, and he’s better with time-management,” she said.

Marcelino’s mother inspired him to be passionate about social work. He recalled that his mother’s independence ー working as a bartender whilst taking care of seven kids ー influenced him to be kind, generous, and curious. On the other hand, he described his father as “strict,” the reason why he and his siblings decided to work instead of continuing to higher education after high school.

After the Covid-19 pandemic, as technology became more and more useful in higher education, Marcelino has become inclined to learn more on how to navigate around the online world of college. Besides being used for online classes, Laulima, a learning and collaboration server for University of Hawai‘i students, also serves as a supporting technology for face-to-face classes. Fortunately, Marcelino found resources on campus to help him be more knowledgeable about technology.

“KCC is amazing,” he said. “They’ll guide you on how to use Laulima [the online learning server for UH]. They have program for those disabled; they have a student learning services program. There are no disadvantages on campus. If you don’t know how to use a computer, it’s OK to ask for help.”

In October 2007, at the time of his first enrollment at KCC, former Kapiʻo News staff member Kimberly Moa introduced Marcelino in a heartfelt feature about HIV (human immunodeficiency virus). He volunteered to raise awareness about AIDS through a student program. Recently, he laughed as he recalled the speech he delivered in the cafeteria.

“Nobody paid attention to me until I mentioned I have AIDS,” Marcelino said, he was diagnosed with AIDS in October 1984. “But that was in the past. My life’s much more than what it was.”

As a 57-year-old student, being on campus and interacting with younger classmates brings him a great deal of support. Young students inspire him to become more open to learning.

“We learn more with people that surrounds us in college than with our professors,” Marcelino said.

As an adult learner, Marcelino feels deeply for his peers. He provided simple advice to motivate adults who are hesitant to continue their academic studies.

“Don’t doubt yourself, take chances, take risks,” he said. “There’s a much bigger world outside your comfort zone. Challenge yourself. Knowledge is power.”