Maui News

Lei-giving ban at high school graduation? Maui students question new restriction

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Baldwin High School’s pre-pandemic graduation ceremony is pictured. PC: Courtesy Taija Hara

Long a Hawai’i tradition, lei-giving at high school graduation has been banned — at least temporarily — at Baldwin High School.  

BHS principal Keoni Wilhelm issued a letter to senior parents and guardians Tuesday that said “no lei giving will be allowed” at any time before, during or after the May 20 ceremony, including in the parking lot.  

The letter outlined other COVID-19 rules for the event.

Seniors said the letter was read to them by teachers Wednesday. 

“Although I am very grateful that my class and I get to have a graduation ceremony, I am really bummed about the lei restrictions,” BHS graduating senior Anjanine Jeremiah-Antes said. 

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“This group has had two years of the pandemic — they were sophomores when this all started. I think they deserve the opportunity to have a great graduation.”

— MAYOR MICHAEL VICTORINO
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Wilhelm today, though, deferred comment, saying he must first speak with the mayor and with DOE officials. 

“I would like to defer before I give any response . . . based on several inquiries that have come my way,” he told Maui Now. “Because I need to speak to not only the complex-area superintendent but the mayor first.” 

When asked if the letter is valid, he said, “the letter that I posted was valid at that moment.”

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When asked if the letter is still valid today, he said: “I would like to reserve my comments for that question because I need to speak with my complex-area superintendent.” 

However, Mayor Michael Victorino on Thursday night said that he supports lei-giving at high school graduation ceremonies.

“As for me, I give my blessings for lei-giving,” he told Maui Now. “Heck, I’ve been to a number of events where I’ve gotten leis and I’ve given leis. I’m shocked he said this.”

Victorino added that graduating seniors have been through a lot and should now be able to celebrate the milestone event.

“This group has had two years of the pandemic — they were sophomores when this all started,” he said. “I think they deserve the opportunity to have a great graduation.”

County spokesman Brian Perry echoed that there are no restrictions from Maui County or from Victorino on lei during graduation.

While Baldwin’s graduation is at a county facility, the state’s DOE has jurisdiction over public school COVID-19 rules.

Not all public high schools on Maui are restricting lei at graduation ceremonies, though.  

“What we’re doing at Lahainaluna, our complex-area superintendent has approved for us, after graduation, we come down to the field — we are all going to stay in our alphabetical order and kind of still have lei ceremony with family — but we have to stay alphabetical order and we have to have our masks,” Lahainaluna High School TA Principal Lora Grando told Maui Now this afternoon. 

She said DOE graduation guidance released April 1 discusses restricting interactions between people but did not specifically restrict lei.  

“It doesn’t say anything about lei,” Grando said. “It says restricting interactions between guests and students.” 

Lahainaluna’s graduation is slated May 22.

Calls to King Kekaulike and Maui High schools were not immediately returned this afternoon. DOE did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Baldwin’s graduating seniors expressed sadness and frustration over the news.  

Jeremiah-Antes questioned the inconsistent rules. 

“If we are allowed to give leis on senior night at sporting events, we should be able to do so after graduation as well,” she said.

Kailaa Silva said the best part of graduation is the lei ceremony because it’s a visual representation of congratulations.  

“Lei restrictions for graduation is very unnecessary because the best part of graduating is the lei ceremony where all our family and friends can come together and congratulate the senior class of 2022,” Silva said. 

Maria Kenagy said lei should be allowed for the special day. 

“With the different policies being lifted year-round, this one day is a good exception because it holds a special memory for graduates,” she said. “It is possibly the last moment students can have all together as a class before going our separate ways.” 

* This story has been updated from its original version to include comments from the county Office of the Mayor.

PC: Courtesy Taija Hara
Kehaulani Cerizo
Kehaulani Cerizo was born and raised on Maui and worked for nearly 15 years as a news reporter, copy editor and features editor at daily newspapers. She earned awards at The Maui News in Wailuku and at Today’s Local News in San Diego.
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