Loved, Respected, and Honored - Provost and Alum Reflect the Loss of their Friend and Mentor, Jane Higa
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Jane Higa left an enduring impact on the lives of students, alumni, and the greater Westmont community during her time as Vice President of Student Life.
Higa passed away on Sept. 5 after two years battling ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Provost Mark Sargent shared his reflections on Higa’s character at her memorial service this past Saturday. Sargent had known Higa for over thirty years. The two met at Biola, where she was Dean of Students and he was an English professor.
Sargent reflected on her ability to inspire those with whom she worked.
“[Higa] sought out colleagues who had weathered fierce storms on their campuses, just to be sure they saw some light.,” Sargent said. “She would pray for and grieve with others, even when their own prayers and emotions had run dry. Virtually everyone emerged from a meeting with Jane with greater capacity for empathy and wonder.”
For many Westmont students, including 2012-13 student body president Kristin Lo, Higa’s impact transcended her position as Student Life Director.
“Jane was a mentor, a second mother, a role model, and a friend,” said Lo. “I asked her to be my mentor for a leadership course I took [during my] second year at Westmont, and she is a large part why I ran for WCSA as Multicultural Rep and eventually Student Body President.”
Leah Sadoian (‘14), who is currently in the College Counseling and Student Development program at Azusa Pacific University, has seen the reach of Higa’s legacy beyond just the Westmont community.
“Jane cared for others in a way that made you feel at ease,” said Sadoian. “She had this incredible intentionality behind interacting with each and every student, and her joy and love for life was inspirational, even after her diagnosis. There isn’t one person at APU who, upon hearing I went to Westmont, fails to mention their friendship with or admiration for Jane, whether it is one of my professors or even APU’s president, John Wallace. It is evident that her impact was deeper and wider than I could have ever imagined.”
Sadoian credits Higa as being a role model for her professional aspirations.
“I hope to one day be able to serve and care for a university the way Jane did, both at Westmont and beyond,” said Sadoian.
Margo Georghiou Kwiatkowski (‘13), interacted with Higa on a weekly basis. She was office manager in the Westmont training room while Higa underwent physical therapy sessions.
“At many large colleges, you might never meet the Dean of Students,” said Kwiatkowski. “They might perform their administrative job from an office. Jane represented the students in a very tangible way. It was almost as if she lived life with us there on campus. Jane was able to be honest in a kind, heartfelt, critical-minded way.”
Higa played an invaluable role in promoting racial and ethnic diversity within the Westmont community. She was an advocate for the hiring of Westmont’s current Director of Intercultural Programs, Jason Cha, who joined Student Life in 2012, the same year Higa was dignosed.
“Her care and understanding for minority students at Westmont is really something Westmont has never seen before and will be missing now that she’s gone,” said Lo. “I think a lot of students will remember going over to Jane’s home for dinner or dessert. She was a wonderful cook, and I remember taking the WCSA team over to her home for dinner, and she was so hospitable and warm.”
Perhaps Sargent best articulates the collective sentiment and reversence for Jane Higa when he quoted Psalm 23 at her memorial: “Now she walks with God, through the trees and beside the still waters.”
Photo Credit: Westmont Website
Rep. Gene Ward | I met Jane just once during Parents' Orientation Week and knew she was the embodiment of the Aloha spirit and everything good about how Hawaii. The nicest people in the world come from Hilo and are role models for us all. Now she's in the real Paradise with her ohana Rep. Gene Ward ~ over 8 years ago.