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SYLVIA LUKE an immigrant’s tale

Sylvia Jung (Chang) Luke was born in 1967 in South Korea.
As with so many of Hawai‘i’s immigrants, Yun Hoo (Paul) and Yun Ja Chang sought better opportunities for themselves and their children. So in 1977 the Changs moved their young family to Honolulu. They chose an American name for their eldest that echoed her given Korean name. Eun, whose name meant “silver” in Korean, became known as Sylvia. Sylvia’s younger brother was known as Joseph and the baby of the family became known as Grace.


The family arrived at the beginning of summer. To help prepare his children for school in September, Paul taped pieces of paper throughout the house with letters and corresponding pictures. Sylvia vividly remembers seeing a picture of apple next to the letter “A” taped to the bathroom mirror. Sesame Street became a TV staple. The first day of school at Ka‘ahumanu Elementary was nonetheless difficult. Sylvia sat in her fifth grade classroom unable to speak a word of English. She found an unexpected hero in her homeroom teacher, who refused to send Sylvia to ESL class, insisting instead on tutoring her young pupil everyday after school.


Our early experiences shape who we become. This is evident in Sylvia’s body of work. As a policy maker, Sylvia has identified with the needs of immigrant populations and consistently championed educational access and teacher retention.

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During Sylvia’s Freshman year at Roosevelt High School, Paul Chang suffered the first of many strokes. Two years later, with his health further compromised by lung cancer, Paul Chang passed away. Widowed with three children, Yun Ja struggled financially, but never let her children share that burden. In fact, regardless of how little the family had, Yun Ja instilled in all her children that there were many less fortunate who needed assistance. Equipped with her unwavering faith, Sylvia’s mother often visited others who were ailing or took leftover food to elderly church members. Her mother’s influence and service to others would inspire Sylvia to become a civic leader.

SYLVIA LUKE knows loss … and faith

While still a senior at Roosevelt High School, Sylvia commenced independent studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, an experience that not only allowed her to win the scholarships that financed her college education but also instilled in her a belief in and commitment to the concept of Early College, which allows high school students to get college credit. As House Finance Chair, Sylvia has consistently worked to expand and fund opportunities including Hawai‘i’s Early College program and the Promise Program making college more affordable for students with financial need.

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SYLVIA LUKE finds her path

Sylvia’s first foray to public service came at the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa, when she ran for President of the Associated Students of University of Hawai‘i. That election pitted Sylvia against her classmate and future colleague, the late Congressman Mark Takai. In fact, the contest garnered such interest that it generated a record student voter turnout. Sylvia prevailed, becoming the first female ASUH President in almost a decade. From the very beginning of her political career, Sylvia demonstrated her penchant for collaboration, working alongside Mark as he lobbied for construction of the 10,000 seat Stan Sheriff Arena.

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SYLVIA LUKE wife and mom

An early believer in Sylvia’s leadership was a fellow undergraduate ASUH campaign supporter named Michael Luke. Friendship blossomed into a love that endured through Sylvia’s education at the University of San Francisco School of Law. The couple married in 1996, and Mike provided enthusiastic support for Sylvia’s first bid for the Hawai‘i State House of Representatives in 1998. He is even more excited by her choice to run for lieutenant governor. Sylvia and Mike have a son, Logan, who is currently a sophomore at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.

SYLVIA LUKE ready to lead

 

Like many working mothers, Sylvia wears many hats. She has been a practicing attorney in Honolulu and is a veteran state lawmaker. For the last decade, she has been chairperson for the House Commitee on Finance. She has developed a reputation of bringing transparency and accountability to the state budget. She has also been fondly referred to as the “budget hawk” leading many changes and reforms in state government.

 

During her tenure in the state legislature, Sylvia has been recognized for her advocacy by many organizations:

  • Hawaii Technology Trade Association Outstanding Civic Leadership Award, 2000

  • Korean American Coalition Pioneer Award in Leadership, 2003

  • AARP Hawaii Certificate of Appreciation for Consumer Protection, 2006

  • Hawaii Farm Bureau Federation Legislator of the Year Award, 2017 

  • Healthcare Association of Hawaii Achievement in Advocacy Award, 2019 

  • Compassion and Choices End of Life Champion Award for the passage of the Our Care Our Choice Act, 2020

 

Sylvia stands ready to take on new challenges as the lieutenant governor and to see many of the reforms she initiated come to life.