My husband and my brother posing for a photo.
I just recently got back from a very short trip back home to Hawai’i in honor of my younger brother’s graduation from University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. Big hopes for my future architect brother!
I love graduation season in Hawai’i. It’s nothing you’ve ever seen. People are weighed down by their weight in leis, struggling to breathe, sweating from the heat, and yet the only feeling they have is being overwhelmed with love and excitement for their accomplishment.
Granted, high school graduations are the ones people get serious for, and it gets a lot of heat for doing so. “Why should you be so happy that they graduated high school? Doesn’t everyone graduate high school?!” For one thing, it’s a pretty big accomplishment in Hawai’i to graduate high school (sad, but true), and for another thing, can’t we just have any excuse to celebrate and give someone a lei? Any reason to party, right?
Throwback to my high school graduation, and this wasn’t even the end of the night yet.
Another thing I love about graduation leis is that in Hawai’i, it doesn’t have to be flowers. As you can see in the photos, some other popular items of decoration are money leis, candy leis, floaties, hakus (flower crowns, essentially), and then the most creative things you can think of. Trust me, you can turn anything into “leis” (for the most part). I’ve seen mini alcohol bottles wrapped in netting, tied together, and draped around people. I’ve been given diaper hats. I’ve even seen cans of spam tied to some strong rope, with the poor recipients lugging around their gift. In Hawai’i, this is so normal. It’s expected. The goal at the end of the night is to not be able to breathe.
When it does come time to take everything off, it feels amazing. Literally 10-20 pounds lifted off your shoulders.
When I graduated college in New York, I had several family members fly up to see me graduate. They came with gifts from my other family members who couldn’t make it. I wasn’t expecting it, and when the ceremony was over, I stuck out like the sorest thumb in the world.
My then-boyfriend/now husband and I at my college graduation.
It’s not as much as I had in high school, but it was more than enough to bring attention to me. People stared. People took photos. People stopped me on my way back to my dorm to ask me if they could take a picture of me and send it to their friends because they’ve never seen it before. They asked me what “all this” was. I was actually pretty thrown off by their curiosity, but I should have expected it.
I love being from Hawai’i. I loved that what we do is so different from the mainland. I love this tradition full of love, support, happiness, and fun that’s so specific to us. Being from Hawai’i is definitely being from a different culture, and I only wish more people could experience it!