Ban on giving lei at high school graduation? Maui students question new restriction

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

A long-standing tradition in Hawai’i, the awarding of lei upon high school graduation has been banned – at least temporarily – at Baldwin High School.

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

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

The elders said the letter was read to them by teachers on Wednesday.

“While I am very grateful that my class and I can have a graduation ceremony, I am really disappointed with the lei restrictions, said BHS graduate Anjanine Jeremiah-Antes.

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“This group had two years of the pandemic – they were in their second year when it all started. I think they deserve the opportunity to have a great graduation.

— MAYOR MICHAEL VICTORINO

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Wilhelm Today, however, deferred his comments, saying he needed to speak to the mayor and DOE officials first.

“I would like to defer before I give an answer . . . based on several requests that have come to me,” he told Maui Now. complex, but also to the mayor.”

When asked if the letter was valid, he replied, “The letter I posted was valid at that time.”

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When asked if the letter still stood today, he replied, “I would like to reserve my comments for this matter as I need to speak with my complex area superintendent.”

However, Mayor Michael Victorino said late Thursday that he supports the presentation of lei at high school graduation ceremonies.

“As for me, I give my blessing for the lei donation,” he told Maui Now. “Heck, I’ve been to a number of events where I got leis and gave leis. I’m shocked he said that.

Victorino added that the senior graduates have been through a lot and should now be able to celebrate this milestone.

“This group had two years of the pandemic – they were in their second year when it all started,” he said. “I think they deserve the opportunity to have a great graduation.”

County spokesman Brian Perry said there were no Maui County or Victorino restrictions on lei during graduation.

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

However, not all Maui public high schools limit the lei at graduation ceremonies.

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

She said the DOE graduation guidelines released on April 1 address restricting interactions between people, but do not specifically restrict lei.

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

Lahainaluna’s graduation is scheduled for May 22.

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

Senior Baldwin graduates expressed their sadness and frustration at the news.

Jeremiah-Antes questioned the inconsistent rules.

“If we’re allowed to give leis on senior nights at sporting events, we should be able to do that after graduation as well,” she said.

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

“Lei graduation restrictions are very unnecessary because the best part of graduation is the lei ceremony where all of 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 various policies being lifted throughout the year, this day is a good exception as it holds a special memory for graduates,” she said. “This may be the last moment the students can all have together in class before going their separate ways.”

*This story has been updated from its original version to include comments from the county mayor’s office.

PC: Courtesy of Taija Hara