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A Lei for Your Graduate

A Lei for Your Graduate

Although it is highly unlikely that you could ever overlook this important cultural tradition of presenting lei to your graduate(s), we decided to post this article just in case… 🙂

Why do we give lei?

There are many reasons to give a lei in Hawai‘i.  Presented as a symbol of affection to someone who is arriving or leaving is most popular.1 Additionally, a lei can be given as a symbolic gesture to represent love, honor, or friendship.1  Common events that feature lei-giving include graduations, weddings,  parties and school dances.1 Kama‘aina, or local residents celebrate the graduation of their High School and college students by giving lei.2

How are graduation lei given?

UH Hilo Graduates from Fall 2002 with haku (head), maile, orchid, and plumeria lei.
UH Hilo Graduates from Fall 2002 with haku (head), maile, orchid, and plumeria lei.

For a graduate in Hawai‘i, it is a unique and endearing experience to be piled so high with lei that the weight begins to overwhelm those with a petite build, causing the wearer to stagger slightly and crane their necks upward to breathe.2

Lei Ettiquette

In old Hawai‘i, the lei was handed to the person of honor.3 It was considered disrespectful to raise the hands higher than someone’s head, particularly someone of royalty.3 In modern Hawaii, (post WWII), the new tradition is to place the lei over the head of the person of honor along with giving him or her a kiss on the cheek.4

A lei should always be accepted as a welcome celebration of affection from one person to another.6 Therefore, a lei should never be refused.6 The Lei should be draped gently over the shoulders, hanging in both the front and back.6 One should never remove a lei from the neck in the presence of the giver, so if it must be removed it should be done discreetly.6

What are lei made out of?

Multicolored feather lei photo take by National Park Service/Jay Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By National Park Service/Jay Robinson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Lei can be made from anything, however, the most common materials are fresh natural plants and flowers including plumeria, tuberose, carnations, orchids, pikake, maile, ferns, and tī leaves.5

Lei can also be made of sea shells, fish teeth, bones, feathers, plastic flowers, fabric, paper (including origami and money), candy, and even spam musubi.5

How Will You Honor Your Graduate?

Whether you choose to buy a lei or make your own, lei can convey your love, affection, pride, and congratulations for your graduate. Some of our personal favorites are the haku lei for the head made with ‘Ohia Lehua from Hawai‘i Island or “The Big Island.”

Additionally, the pikake, puakenikeni, and tuberose lei are fabulously fragrant for those without allergies or scent sensitivities. For those who are allergic to fragrances, the tī leaf, Mauna Loa, cigar, or feather lei may be better options.

For your graduate who was either born in the islands or has embraced island culture, a spam musubi lei could be a big hit.

Of course, you can never go wrong with a money lei :).

  1. Symbolism.” Flower Leis Retrieved 2015, Dec. 18.
  2. Graduation in Hawaii: Bring Flowers.” Hawaii Aloha Travel Retrieved 2015, Dec. 18.
  3. Leis in Old Hawaii.” Flower Leis Retrieved 2015, Dec. 18.
  4. Leis in World War II.” Flower Leis Retrieved 2015, Dec. 18.
  5. Materials.” Lei(garland) From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Retrieved 2015, Dec. 18.
  6. Lei EtiquetteHawaii Flower Lei Retrieved 2015, Dec. 18.