Giugni Awarded Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at Spring Commencement

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo
Posted: May 22, 2003

Henry Kuualoha Giugni, a key figure in Washington, D.C. for more than 40 years, was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, honoris causa, by the University of Hawaiʻi Board of Regents (BOR) during the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo‘s Spring Commencement on Saturday, May 17, 2003. The degree recognizes Giugni‘s exemplary service to the State of Hawaiʻi, the nation, and for serving as a role model for Native Hawaiians.

Giugni‘s long and distinguished career in the nation‘s capital includes 24 years as a top aide to U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, his longtime friend and political ally who delivered the commencement‘s keynote address. Giugni, who has participated in each of Inouye‘s campaigns dating back to 1957, was once referred to by Hawaiʻi‘s senior senator as "the supreme commander of Hawaiian politics" in recognition of his political acumen and skill as a political strategist. As Inouye‘s Chiefof Staff, he was instrumental in ensuring that Inouye‘s office operated efficiently and effectively in serving the people of Hawaiʻi.

In 1987, Giugni was appointed Sergeant at Arms of the United States Senate where he managed a budget of nearly $120 million, oversaw a staff of more than 2,000 and supervised support services, including law enforcement and telecommunications.During his career, Giugni has worked with some of the world‘s most powerful and well-known figures. He was part of the delegation that greeted then-Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson in Hawaiʻi just before the start of the Cuban missile crisis, carried Hawaiʻi‘s flag while marching with Dr. Martin Luther King for civil rights in Selma, Alabama, and served as a driver for Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy following the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy.Giugni was among one of the first official delegations travelling to the People‘s Republic of China following President Richard M. Nixon‘s historic visit. He also presided over the inauguration of President George H.W. Bush, and escorted numerous foreign dignitaries, including Nelson Mandela, Margaret Thatcher and Vaclav Havel when they visited the United States Capitol.

He is currently a vice-chairman with Cassidy and Associates, one of Washington‘s most influential lobbying firms, where he has worked since 1991. Despite rubbing shoulders with powerful and well-known figures, Giugni has strived to maintain ties to his local Hawaiian roots, referring to himself as "a poor Hawaiian boy."

"Henry Giugni is an inspirational success story in the truest sense of the word," said Chancellor Rose Tseng. "From humble beginnings he has risen to a position of tremendous influence, and has worked tirelessly along the way to open the doors of opportunity to others. This degree is a fitting tribute to someone who promotes the highest ideals of humanity."

The first person of color and first Polynesian to be appointed Senate Sergeant at Arms, Giugni left an indelible mark during his four-year tenure by promoting minorities and women in what had long been a preserve dominated by southern males. He appointed the first minority — an African American man — to lead the Sergeant at Arms‘ Service Department, and was the first to assign women to the Capitol Police plainclothes unit.

His special interest in people with disabilities resulted in a major expansion of the Special Services Office, which now conducts tours of the U.S. Capitol for the blind, deaf and wheelchair-bound, and publishes Senate maps and documents in Braille.

"You have achieved much in your life," said BOR Chair Bert Kobayashi in conferring the degree. "Because of that, Hawaiʻi, the United States and Hawaiians have benefited."

Despite his success and accolades, Giugni has generally shunned the spotlight. One of three Hawaiians honored in 1987 during the "Year of the Hawaiian," he has been a behind-the-scenes advocate for Native Hawaiians.

While serving as Sergeant at Arms, Giugni learned that a University of Minnesota graduate had been turned down for a position in a senator‘s office. Upon further investigation, Giugni learned that the woman was part Hawaiian, and that her late father had been a newspaper writer in Honolulu. He later found her a place on his staff.

"Henry Giugni has been a tremendous role model for Native Hawaiians," said Dr. Kalena Silva, director of UH Hilo‘s Ka Haka Ula O Keʻelikolani College of Hawaiian Language. "His lifetime of achievement in both Hawaiʻi and the nation‘s capitol serves as an excellent example for others to follow."

Giugni said his years in Washington may have taken him out of Hawaiʻi, but did not take Hawaiʻi out of him. He beamed with pride as he recalled a moment as Sergeant at Arms when he spotted a couple from Hilo who had come to the Senate gallery to hear the President speak.

"After we escorted the President, and his speech was over, I walked back, the camera was on me, and they gave me the shaka sign," Giugni said. "So in front of everyone I gave them the shaka sign. I wanted to show them I‘m Hawaiian and I‘m proud of it."