Ah, nothing like graduation time
By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer
By Beverly Creamer
Graduation season, Hawai'i-style, is like no other.
These are charmed and emotional moments, from the imu-cooked pig for a graduation feast at the Hawaiian immersion school Kula Kaiapuni 'O Anuenue deep in Palolo Valley, to the cloud of monarch butterflies that will be released by the 18 graduates at Laupahoehoe High on the Big Island, to the zillions of lei draped around the necks of 13,100 beaming high school seniors throughout the state.
Kawailani Soma knows there will be tears today as she and her three senior classmates chant in Hawaiian for permission to enter the graduation tent to receive feather lei and kihei — capes — that will wrap around their bodies and tie at the shoulder, symbols of having completed their high school studies.
"I'm excited and sad at the same time," she said Thursday as she practiced a hula for the graduation ceremony, accompanied on guitar and 'ukulele by the other graduating seniors, Keoni Rivers, Hanalei Fujimoto and Kahaleali'i Muhlestein — and a couple of helpful juniors.
"I know I'm going to miss the school but it won't be my last time here. I have three younger siblings," she said.
As graduations for both public and private high schools continue through the weekend and into next week, this year marks several milestones: At least four schools are seeing their first graduating classes.
A week ago Kamehameha Schools-Hawai'i Campus graduated 143 seniors while the Maui campus graduated 138; Le Jardin Academy in Kailua will graduate 47 seniors this afternoon; and Hakipu'u Learning Center, a public charter school based at Windward Community College, graduated six seniors last night.
"I have a lot of friends who want to be doctors, dentists, businessmen. They have really high aspirations," said Christa Conry, 17, one of the graduating seniors at Le Jardin.
"A lot of us know we have to go on to med school or law school or veterinary school. There's so much competition everywhere, you have to be the highest you can be to really compete. My yearbook asked, 'Where will you be in 10 years?' My answer: 'In school.' But I'm fine with that. It's good for your soul and your life."
Last night 235 graduating seniors from Kalaheo High filed into Blaisdell Arena. With the rows of seats filled with cheering friends and family, 17-year-old senior Mary Kwan said beforehand that she knew the moment would be bittersweet.
"I know I'm going to cry," she said after rehearsing with the rest of her class for the evening's ceremony that would be capped with 250 giant blown-up beachballs floating down on the class from the balcony above.
"It's really closing a chapter in my life," Kwan said. "You're excited and happy but at the same time it's nerve-racking. You're going off into the world soon."
That's exactly why class president Malia Phillips organized the butterfly release for her graduating class at Laupahoehoe.
"It means all of us are going out into the real world," she said by phone from the Big Island. "When the butterflies form, they have different stages — so it's sort of like that. You start as a caterpillar in elementary school and, I guess, maybe in high school you're in a cocoon. When the butterfly forms, that means you graduate and you're on your own."
This year Project Graduation — the parent- and school-supported, alcohol-free graduation night party — has remained as popular as ever, with about 50 schools, public and private, participating.
At Mililani High, with 370 of the school's approximately 540 graduates signed up for tomorrow evening's chaperoned all-night party after graduation ceremonies at Aloha Stadium, parent coordinator Brenda Horner is juggling last-minute details such as getting 1,000 bottles of water to the event along with enough bentos for an evening snack.
It's "somewhere in the neighborhood of $80,000," Horner says of the cost of the entire evening that has involved the efforts of hundreds of parents who began work soon after graduation last year. Each student has paid between $100 and $175 (for late payment), plus parents have spearheaded numerous fundraisers to finance the evening.
"We've worked very hard to give them a very safe and fun-filled evening," Horner said. "It's just something I've always believed. It's a very worthwhile endeavor."
Jan Meeker, the Department of Education's state resource teacher for driver education, which includes Project Grad, said schools average about 55 percent of the senior class signing up for the Project Grad parties.
"It usually starts about an hour after commencement. The parents check them in, remove all the excess things (such as cell phones and purses) and send them on with one or two leis. They'll have everything supplied to them when they get to the party," Meeker said.
HAVING SAFE FUN
Many Project Grad parties ask the seniors to sign an agreement that they'll be alcohol- and drug-free. The point is to keep the kids safe while they're having fun, said grandparent Jo Ann Abrazado, who has been in charge of the Kapolei High School celebration this year as a shakedown for next year when her granddaughter Chaleesa graduates.
"It's to keep them away from drugs, smoking, drinking and driving, and to have a last get-together with all their friends," Abrazado said.
"I keep telling them, 'You don't know when you'll see them all again.' We want them to have a last goodbye, something they remember forever."
The Project Grad concept works so well that 18-year-old Kahuku High graduating senior Nalani Brown adapted it to prom night in March for her classmates, creating Project Prom.
As the Southwest regional representative of the National Student Safety program, she brought back the idea from Mainland schools and put it into effect at Kahuku, partly because of the state's new licensing restrictions for underage students driving between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.
"I thought that would be a good idea and I had a lot of support from teachers and people in the community," Brown said. "Everyone said, 'Let's go for it.' "
But this week, Brown and her Kahuku High classmates were focused on their Thursday night graduation ceremony at Brigham Young University's activities center, and the excitement of the all-night Project Grad party afterward where graduating senior Amanda Johnson won a car, compliments of dealer Mike McKenna. He has supported Project Grad with a free car since 1996. This morning he will award another to a Kalaheo graduate at the wrap-up of that school's all-night Project Grad party.
"Graduation — I'm ready for it," Brown said.
"I know tonight is going to be closing a really big chapter in my life, but it also means opening up a new one. I'm going to Portland State University, so I'll still be in school. But I'm ready for it because I've learned so much in my high school years and now I want to make it work on my own."
Reach Beverly Creamer at firstname.lastname@example.org.