Utah High Schools Ban Pacific Islander Students From Wearing Leis at Graduation


The Pacific Islander community in Utah has called out some high schools’ decision to bar student from wearing leis or any other ornaments during their graduation ceremonies.

via Wikimedia Commons / Janine (CC BY 2.0)

The ban on leis or any other ornaments is the result of some schools in the area that sought a uniform look for the students to limit the distractions or special attention, the Salt Lake Tribune reported via Herald Extra.

However, some bans were placed by the venue where the graduation ceremony will take place and not the school itself; one in particular is the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. This venue hosted several ceremonies this year including four graduations for the Salt Lake City School District.

The center’s director, Aaron White, cited the mess that leis produce after each ceremony. He noted that it would cost an additional $500 to cover the rush cleaning in the venue especially when four ceremonies are being held on the same day.

The leis are always a problem,” he said. “The students are excited. They’re hugging. Flowers and leaves fall off on the floor.”

For Pacific Islanders in the state, however, this ban feels discriminatory as leis represent their culture and heritage.

Leis are a token of love and appreciation for all that they’ve done in high school,” M. Vida Hafoka, whose son just recently graduated from Westlake High School in Saratoga Springs, Utah, said.

They don’t want us to display our cultural customs or traditions,” Angie Lotulelei said. “It takes away what sets them apart, what makes them special. We do that to celebrate their difference.”

Lotulelei, who wore leis during her graduation from Salt Lake City high school in 1994, also wanted for her daughter to wear hers during West High School’s graduation ceremony that was held at the Huntsman Center at the University of Utah.

The discussion started a little late for this year, but we’re hopeful that for next year they might be a little more inclusive,” the Salt Lake City School District supervisor, Claustina Mahon-Reynolds, said on how the district challenged the policy, but was unfortunate that they weren’t able to change it.

As a solution, she added that if the Huntsman Center is not willing to change the policies, the district may look and go somewhere else.

Feature Image via Flickr / University of Hawaii (CC BY-ND 2.0)

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