How to Celebrate a Mainland Graduation Hawaiian Style

Be sure to check out my video at the end of this article!

I’m always so proud of people when they graduate from college because it’s such a huge accomplishment. All the work, time, money, and stress that goes into it deserves recognition. This past week I went up to Rexburg, Idaho with my great aunt to attend and celebrate my brother-in-law’s graduation. I can’t even begin to say how proud I am of him. Roger is a first generation college graduate, and he graduated with honors, debt-free, and all the time he’s been in school, he’s worked a job and studied, which is incredibly impressive considering he’s provided for his family while doing school full-time. He’s a remarkable person and I’m so glad to call him family. But because he’s family, he also gets to be showered with our Polynesian customs. His wife, my older sister Kamele, and I have been planning this for weeks.

We asked eachother questions like: What kind of leis should we make? What should we do before the graduation? Or after? What should we eat? (which, as you know, is probably one of the more important questions :P)


This was a celebration of Roger, and we wanted to make sure it was special and that it was about him. He really is a local boy at heart even though he’s white as can be. In fact, when my sister was dating him, we laughed because growing up he had almost all Polynesian friends. We wanted to make sure he received as many leis as possible because he deserved it! With that said, I came up with a list of ways to make your mainland graduation Hawaiian style. We are so proud of our heritage and so proud of Roger that this was the best way we could express it. So here are my tips:


Celebrate the person

This concept doesn’t apply to just graduations, it applies to weddings, baby births, engagements, or any other significant life events. One thing I’ve noticed is that people get really selfish when big events like this happen. I’ve seen countless bridesmaids who were only concerned about how they looked or what they’re supposed to be doing. I’ve always tried to draw these types of self-centered people away from the person we’re celebrating because this is their day! We are celebrating them and they really don’t need that negativity. They’ve worked so hard for this one thing, and so is it really that difficult to celebrate them for once? My parents are divorced, so of course that adds another dynamic into the mix. While dad’s being a drama queen about not seeing mom and mom’s trying to be nice but she’s probably going to have a breakdown, it’s really really hard to stay focused on the person we’re celebrating. So I just wanted to throw this tip out there because one thing I used to love about going to graduation luaus or family dinners after big events is that people can just put those differences aside and focus on the person being celebrated. This is their big day, for once, so rejoice with them. They deserve the recognition and positivity after all their hard work!


Eat good food

I love food, and a college graduation is one of the best excuses for it. Back home in Hawaii, people had graduation luaus, and I honestly enjoyed going to those because the atmosphere was so relaxed, the food was delicious, and I was always so happy to celebrate the person that graduated. When my older sister and I graduated, we didn’t get any big luau. We just went to mom’s rental after and took off all the leis and our robes. We might’ve gone to the beach to cool off (cause seriously things can heat up with all those leis on). I remember being so stressed about the family drama that I was just relieved when mom made us smoothies and I chugged that thing down. This time, however, my sister and I wanted it to be perfect for Roger. We ate one of his favorite foods: pizza, and celebrated after with ice cream cake. Think about your graduate’s favorite foods and eat that with them. They deserve it!


Make leis, lots of them

This is probably one of my favorite things to do because 1) I love making leis (it’s a part of my name and seriously, my birthday is on the biggest celebrated lei-day of the year), and 2) I love making leis for someone I really care about. There is a lot of significance behind lei-making, as it shows the thoughtfulness and care someone has for another person. My sister made a haku (and I’ll make a tutorial on that in the coming days–really anyone can do it) and I made a rose lei (this is very easy to make and so beautiful!). The weekend before the graduation, I went out running in the neighborhood and picked a bunch of maple leaves to make some leaf leis (hey, if no more ti leaves, you gotta use what you can!).  About a week before, my aunt and I made candy leis. And before that, I made eyelash yarn leis. My little sister even helped by making some candy leis. It’s just a big deal, and the more leis, the better.


Your closest family and friends come and support

One thing I realized about graduations is that even though they’re not as big as a wedding or a baby birth, they’re still really big life events and the most important people show up. When my sister and I graduated, we were so excited to be celebrating with our close friends, classmates, and family. I remember feeling so special when many of my classmates, who either graduated or didn’t graduate yet, showed up at the end just to give me leis, cards, and hugs. One thing I’ve learned through celebrating events like this is that the most important people show up. If they care that much, they’ll be there. Of course sometimes life circumstances get in the way, but I realized that even if they can’t be there, there’s usually a call, a text, or even a facebook message of congratulations and excitement–and, as I previously stated, the focus is on the person being celebrated. It’s just incredibly inconsistent with the aloha spirit to usurp the situation and turn the attention to one’s self, which is what I’ve seen too many times. But this time, with Roger’s graduation, we just shut out the negativity and focused on him, the celebration of his accomplishments, and we enjoyed the company and spirits of those that did show up. And that’s what it’s all about–the most important people show up and a spirit of thanksgiving and aloha can be felt by everyone present.


I’m so glad I was able to go to Roger’s graduation. I had scheduled my days off at least a month in advance, and all the time, money, and energy spent on making leis, traveling, and everything was completely, undeniably worth it. This is what these big life events are all about: coming together to celebrate someone’s tenacity, patience, and how they honorably used the resources under their stewardship. So the next time someone graduates, gets married, has a baby, or experiences a significant life event remember these tips and enjoy celebrating these special people Hawaiian style! 


Is there someone you got to celebrate Hawaiian style? Be sure to like and share!!! 


Also, check out the video I made about this. You can also subscribe to my Youtube channel. I’ll be making more videos soon! 🙂 

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