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For six siblings who earned degrees at Sacramento State, the University is home

All six of the Koloamatangi siblings are Hornet alums, and the family calls Sac State a second home. Pictured: (Top row, from left) Hopoate Koloamatangi, mother Valeti Koloamatangi, Rose Koloamatangi, Valeti Lokelimana Lausi’i Tupou (being held), Emeline Koloamatangi, father Hopoate Koloamatangi; (Bottom row, from left) Mary Koloamatangi, Gladys Koloamatangi and Katalilna Koloamatangi. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Sacramento State “means home” to Emeline Koloamatangi. Her brother and four sisters feel the same.

Emeline and all five of her siblings have earned their bachelor’s degrees from Sac State, and one is working on adding a master’s to the collection.

“We’re all so proud to be Hornets,” said Emeline, who works as an administrative support coordinator in Sac State’s Ethnic Studies department after receiving her degree in 2018. “Sac State means home to us.”

In many ways, the Koloamatangi family’s story is Sac State’s story. Like more than a third of the University’s students, they are the first in their families to attend college. Like most Hornet alumni, they have all remained in the Sacramento area to launch their careers and contribute to their community.

It’s a story that began in the Kingdom of Tonga in Polynesia, from which their parents, Hopoate and Valeti Koloamatangi, immigrated separately to the United States before meeting in Sacramento and marrying.

“Both of them left Tonga for better opportunities,” Emeline said. “They wanted a better life for themselves and for their future family.”

Neither of them attended college, but they made education a priority for their children.

“Mom and Dad were very hard on us,” checking their homework, demanding good grades and enrolling them in academic programs after school, Emeline recalled. “I love them for that now.”

The Koloamatangi siblings faced the same barriers that many first-generation college students do, including a lack of knowledge about how to apply for college, get financial help and navigate a large campus. First-generation students may also feel intense pressure to forgo college to help relatives who rely on them to act as translators and navigate medical appointments, among other tasks.  

A Family of Hornets

  • Rose Koloamatangi ’18 (Child Development)

  • Gladys Koloamatangi ’18 (Social Work)

  • Emeline Koloamatangi ’18 (Women and Gender Studies)

  • Katalina Koloamatangi ’21 (Interior Architecture)

  • Mary Koloamatangi ’22 (Nursing, Public Health)

  • Hopoate Koloamatangi ’23 (Psychology), pursuing master’s in Counseling

The transition from high school to college was not always easy for the siblings. Juggling family responsibilities, class and work was overwhelming at times.

“There were days I wanted to give up,” Emeline said. Conversations with her sister Gladys, who was the first to enroll at Sac State, helped her persevere. “She was paving the way for all of us.”

The University’s Full Circle Project, which supports Asian Pacific Islander Desi American students with academic endeavors and achieving a sense of belonging, was Emeline’s refuge. She began working for the center, developed strong friendships and found mentors who believed in her even when she was struggling.

“That was very powerful,” she said.

Upon graduating from high school, Emeline was unsure if she wanted to attend college, she said. But her parents made it clear that she would.

“We wanted our children to have better lives, and Sac State was perfect,” said Valeti Koloamatangi. “It was a very good experience for all of them.”

Some of the children preferred leaving Sacramento for college, but their father discouraged them.

“Sac State is close, it’s convenient, it’s affordable, and everything is high level,” he said. “You can feel it when you are here.”

The Koloamatangi siblings urge Sac State students to take advantage of support systems at the University, including academic advisors, financial aid and special programs for first-generation students and other groups.

“Without all of these things, I’m not sure I would have been able to get through,” said Mary, now a nurse in the neonatal unit at UC Davis Medical Center.

For a few months, all five of the Koloamatangi sisters were taking classes at Sac State at the same time. They were thrilled that three of them would graduate together in the spring of 2018.

During that Commencement ceremony, Emeline spotted her family in the audience and saw tears rolling down her father’s cheeks.

“It was the first time I had ever seen him cry,” she said. “My mom and dad didn’t always tell us that they were proud of us. But at that moment, I knew that they were.”

Emeline said she hopes her baby daughter, Valeti Lokelimana Lausi’i Tupou, will follow in her and her siblings’ footsteps.

“I hope that one day she can also be a Hornet like her mother, aunties and uncle,” she said. “Knowledge is powerful. Nobody can ever take that away from you.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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