Hawai‘i Preparatory School has a unique graduation ceremony that reflects the Hawaiian culture surrounding us. Much of the ceremony could happen anywhere: the faculty march in wearing their traditional cap and gown, the valedictorian and others gives speeches, the students receive diplomas. But what will stick in the minds of participants and observers alike are the Hawaiian chants, songs, and hulas – the connection to this land, this ‘āina.
All of these graduating seniors spent the prior weekend participating in a final cleansing ceremony down in Waipio Valley, preparing them to leave high school. They made amends so as to leave classmates clear of past sorrows, and deeply bonded for the last time with their class as a whole. They are ready for this day.
The ceremony begins with conch blowing to invite the gods to join and bless the ceremony, followed by traditional chanting to bring the graduating class into the decorated gym. Hungry parent eyes searched the faces of the young people striding in, looking for their child, as we sang the State Song, Hawai‘i Pono‘i.
The girls wear long white Hawaiian gowns and yellow plumeria flowers in their hair. The boys wear while pants, white shirts and red cummerbunds. All wear long lei of green maile leaves, and everyone is barefooted, as that is the traditional way to perform hula. Because besides choosing colleges and studying for finals and AP exams, these students have been practicing hulas for months.
Most people think of hula as swaying hips and fluidly moving arms – that’s modern hula, typically accompanied by island music. Traditional hula tells stories of history, accompanied by chanting and drum beats.
The boys staged a traditional hula that King Kamehameha and his warriors executed right here in Waimea, as this was the training grounds for the King’s troops. The shy young man who introduced it said they would enter the hula as boys and come out on the other end as men. And indeed they looked fabulous with their precision assertive moves.
On the other end of the spectrum, the girls, and the girls and boys together enacted the modern hula with music. Is that our daughter out there? She looked every bit the modern Hawaiian beauty – one of the multicultural members of this global village that is Hawai‘i.
How do you describe the pleasure of seeing your child graduate? It’s a complicated moment, filled with gratitude, love, memories of when they were little, pride of the day, and hope for their future. There’s no one word that will suffice.
Disbelief ‒ that she’s grown up so quickly: it was 18 years ago that she was placed in my arms at that orphanage in China. Despite being 42, I was as scared as any new young mother. Would she suffer in any way because her parents were older? Looking back, it doesn’t appear so, but that will be for her to judge.
Wonder: who was this young woman beaming as she confidently crossed the stage to hug the head master and receive her diploma? She seemed so self-assured, nothing like the shy little toddler or quiet child we saw every day and whose image is stuck in our memories. It’s time to shake off the old images and really take in the young woman she has become. It’s hard to do after all these years.
Pride ‒ that she excelled academically: this despite switching high schools after sophomore year. That kind of change could derail kids with less grit. But she’s always been conscientious. We never had to remind her to do her homework. In fact, I often urged her to take time for more fun, but she’d give me that three syllable Mo-o-om, and get back to her books.
Thankfulness: Her father deserves much credit, doing math homework with her many nights. They’d each do the homework, then discuss their approaches to the various problems, and debate which was best. While I did fine in math, I never liked it. I did however get to help her with editing essays.
Fear – she’s an adult by some standards. She can vote, drive, make radical life decisions if she chose. Yes, I believe that she will continue to look to us for help. But the only thing I can count on is the values she holds inside to guide her now. I pray I did a good enough job teaching those values. Please God, watch over her as she makes her way in the world. Keep her safe and help her be happy.
Sweet sorrow: she’ll be leaving the nest in fall for college. I will miss her so much. I try not to dwell on it, as we have the whole summer to enjoy ahead of us. She’s already giving us warnings that she might go to summer school or get a job on the mainland next summer. Our family will never be the same.
Joy: I am so happy for her and her life to come. Aloha little one.
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