Coronavirus graduations: here’s how Hawaii celebrates

If you’ve ever graduated from high school in Hawaii, chances are you know what it’s like to be covered head to toe in leis. With social distancing rules still in place, here’s how Hawaii celebrates graduations during the coronavirus.

On April 15, the Hawaii State Department of Education announced that alternative celebrations would replace traditional ceremonies at public and charter schools.

Coronavirus graduations Hawaii | LiveFEED
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“Graduation is considered a major milestone in any academic journey. In Hawaii, these celebrations are uniquely special with a long-standing tradition of families coming together to celebrate, giving towering amounts of lei, and enjoying each other’s company— something we are all missing during this time,” Superintendent Dr. Christina Kishimoto said in an online video.

Schools have designed individual plans to honor seniors.

Maui High School will hold a drive-through ceremony on May 17 for its 420 graduates. Students can decorate their vehicles and must wear a protective mask when exiting the car. A photographer will also be present to take students’ photos when receiving their diplomas. The school has no plans to live-stream the event.

“It’s definitely an unorthodox graduation, but [the seniors] will definitely remember this for the rest of their lives, said Michele Sera, a math teacher at Maui High. “I’m sure the families are trying to make it as special as they can for their seniors. If they can get through this, they can get through anything.”

Private schools also have alternative plans in place.

Iolani School announced that it would host a drive-in movie style graduation on its baseball field on June 6. Only students and immediate family members can attend, but the ceremony will be live-streamed on YouTube as well.

“We’re lucky enough that our school and administration are trying their best to give us a traditional graduation,” said Iolani senior Channah Garcia. “But I know a lot of people, including myself, who just want to hug their friends and congratulate them and give them leis. We’ve all gone to graduations and it’s something like, ‘Oh wow. This is what we’re going to be doing.’ And now that we can’t do that, it’s heartbreaking almost.”

Channah’s twin brother, Jensen Garcia, will also be graduating this year from Punahou School. According to Jensen, Punahou plans to hold a virtual ceremony in May with a possible physical ceremony in December.

“It was hard to take in. We worked this hard not to have a celebration,” said Jensen. “A diploma is not the same. Even though a diploma says you graduated, it’s the graduation that everyone kind of cares about. It was kind of devasting, but when everyone looks at the big picture, it’s all for our health and safety.”

Jensen said that his whole class, in the meanwhile, has plans to hold one huge Zoom call for senior sing—an event where students practice the songs that they would’ve sung together during their commencement.

“Right now, we’re all disappointed with how our senior year has ended,” said Channah. “But honestly, it’ll make us grow as a generation because we know what it’s like to go through unexpected circumstances. We’re all going to come out stronger because of it.”

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