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What Is the Special Meaning Behind Hawaiian Lei at Graduation?

Many students graduate wearing Hawaiian lei, but is this tradition for everyone? What does receiving a lei mean? Find out the answers right here!

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 Whether you’re graduating this year or attending the graduation of a loved one, you may notice a common ceremonial trend: students wearing lei. There’s a meaningful history behind the gesture you should know before deciding whether to gift a lei to a graduate on their big day.

Hawaiian lei is a garland of flowers that’s typically worn around the neck made from orchids, plumeria, and other plants native to Hawaiʻi. Most of the time, people give and receive lei for special occasions, including weddings, birthdays, graduations, and other milestones. Wearing a lei at graduation represents the closing of one chapter and the beginning of a new one.

Lei are no longer just for Hawaiian ceremonies and occasions; this cultural tradition has expanded around the world as a gesture to show love and pride for a person’s success. Anyone can wear lei for any special occasion! But first, you should know what messages you are conveying by bestowing a lei to someone:

Hawaiian male graduate in black grad cap and lei
Image courtesy of Buy Hawaiian Lei
  • Congratulations: If you want to congratulate a graduate on a job well done, giving a lei is the perfect way to accomplish that! Whether you’re a parent, sibling, grandparent, or friend, it’s appropriate for anyone to gift a lei. As a graduate, you should allow the gift giver to place the lei around your neck and wear it as you walk across the stage.
  • Affection: The lei also represents a general feeling of love and affection. When someone gives you lei during any special occasion, they’re reinforcing those feelings through something tangible.
  • Best wishes: During big milestones, people often look forward to future success. Loved ones want new graduates to have the best futures possible, so giving a lei is another way to wish them good luck in all their future endeavors.

You can customize lei based on flower size for both subtle pieces and statement-making styles. While orchids in purple or white are the most popular arrangement, you’ll find lei garlands in nearly every color of the rainbow with a variety of different floral options. Some popular trends for graduations include:

  • Dyed flowers that match high school or university colors
  • Ti leaves or kukui nuts instead of orchids
  • Yellow rose lei instead of Hawaiian plants

No matter what type of lei you choose, you should buy it several days in advance and keep it fresh with special care. Store your lei on the bottom shelf of the fridge and spray it with water occasionally. This way, the lei will be fresh and bright when it’s time to give it away!

Whether you know what your plans are after graduation or you’re still unsure, search for colleges, explore grad school programs, or get job search advice right here on CollegeXpress!

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