Are flower leis inappropriate for high school graduation ceremonies?

May 24, 2022, 6:30 PM | Updated: Aug 3, 2022, 12:55 pm

Graduation rate...

High School graduation is underway across the state. Utah typically falls in the upper 80% for graduation rate. Photo: Canva

SALT LAKE CITY — A lei is a garland common in Hawaii and across Polynesia. Leis are given throughout the Pacific as gifts to honor visiting dignitaries, graduates or loved ones who are departing. So why would students not be allowed to don meaningful cultural attire — like flower leis — during graduation ceremonies at high school, particularly in the Jordan School District?

Jordan School District policy governing the graduation dress code states:

  • Graduates are expected to wear the prescribed cap and gown without decoration, additions or alterations.
  • Only school-issued and -approved tassels, sashes, pins, hoods, cowls, mantles, cords, insignias or medals signifying achievement, honor, participation, membership or recognition may be worn.
  • Formal, semi-formal or customary dress attire is appropriate for a commencement ceremony.

On the evening of Tuesday, May 24, the Jordan School District Board is slated to discuss possible exemption to the policy as it relates to graduation attire.

Verona Mauga is a member of the KSL Community Board and recently attended a meeting with the Jordan School District about cultural adornments at graduation ceremonies. She spoke with KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic about the topic.

Cultural expression at high school graduation

Mauga said the school district policy is vague on graduation dress.

“It doesn’t specifically call out leis or cultural attire. I’ve talked to several different board members and the superintendent and the message is very unclear,” she said.

One board member said the policy on graduation attire was revised six months ago, while another board member said the policy has always been in place and enforced.

“Did they give a reason why” leis are banned at graduation ceremonies? Dave asked.

“They didn’t,” she said, adding the district policy is designed to promote unity among graduates.

“But America is a country that is made up of immigrants. I think being able to come in at least one piece of cultural attire to honor your family and the diverse cultures that make up America, I think it’s an important thing for students to be able to do,” Mauga said.

“Verona, I checked with the Granite School District next door to the Jordan School District this morning. They said in fact they do allow for the wearing of leis at the high school graduation,” Debbie pointed out.

High school graduation should be inclusive

State Rep. Karen Kwan, who district includes the Jordan School District, set up a meeting for community members and the district to address the issue. She joined the show.

“I think dress codes in general are kind of tricky, right? Anytime you tell someone what they can or can’t wear, that’s going to ruffle feather,” Dave said. “Is there an argument to be made that maybe this is a moment for just caps, gowns and tassels?”

Kwan said the Jordan School District understands and celebrates the value of human diversity because everyone has a cultural history. 

She further pointed out the school district’s policy states:

  • Formal, semi-formal or customary dress attire is appropriate for a commencement ceremony.

“Doesn’t that mean that it’s not banned, leis are not banned because that is customary dress attire for native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders?” Kwan asked.

She said her understanding is at Tuesday evening’s school board meeting there will be a reinterpretation of the policy to allow for customary practices that are respectful of Pacific Islander culture, such as wearing of leis.

“Representative Kwan, in your view, should students be allowed to wear leis?” Debbie asked.

“Yes, parents should have a say in how students celebrate,” she said.

Related reading:

Some high school seniors in Utah concerned about graduation attire

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Are flower leis inappropriate for high school graduation ceremonies?