RIVERTON, Utah — The Jordan School District board has voted to allow students to wear leis at the 2022 graduation ceremony.
The unanimous decision came after almost an hour of public comment and forty minutes of discussion among board members Tuesday evening.
The board decided to make an exception to its graduation attire policy for this year to allow for “recognized items of religious or cultural significance” during the ceremony.
They said they intend to come back and review the policy later in the year. They voted to make the exception only because graduation is eight days away, and they didn’t think they’d have enough time to rewrite the policy in time for it.
At the meeting Tuesday night, students wore leis in solidarity and shared the significance of the attire.
Thani Todd said she wants to wear her culture in honor of her mom.
“She came here for her children to have a better life and a better education, and that’s exactly what I’m doing,” she said. “I want to represent her, respect her, and give thanks to her.”
“Leis are a cultural and spiritual custom to commemorate the developmental stage that our children are moving from childhood to adulthood, and that’s a sacred time for them,” said Rep. Karen Kwan of Utah District 34.
Inside The Hawaiian Hut in West Valley City, each lei is made with love, detail, and attention.
“It’s almost like an identity. This is my culture. This is my way of life,” said Pelenaise Mataele.
From April college graduations to Father’s Day, this is The Hawaiian Hut’s busiest time of year and the list of orders seems endless. But Mataele and her team love the work and the symbolism behind the lei.
“I feel loved. You give me a lei, I feel loved,” she said.
Brigetta-Monet U’Tai graduated from the Jordan School District in 2011. She remembers what it felt like to not wear a lei then.
“It’s been 11 years. That’s why I’m just like, ‘Wow, this hasn’t been ironed out because that was the policy then,’” she said.
U’Tai got to represent her culture when accepting her diplomas for her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. She wants Jordan high schoolers to feel that same pride.
“Depending on the flower, depending on even the design, you can tell someone what their Pasifika background is. Samoan leis are different than Hawaiian leis. Hawaiian leis are different than Tongan leis,” U’Tai explained. “I hope and pray there are some changes to be made.”