Description of Graduation Leis With Meanings

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Special leis are worn for graduation in Hawaii.
Special leis are worn for graduation in Hawaii. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Graduates in Hawaii have traditionally received floral leis from family and friends to honor their accomplishments, show love and wish them good luck. This tradition has now spread to many other states as well. Floral leis are still the most commonly presented, but modern leis include coins and bills, ribbons in school colors, emblems or symbols of important activities in the student's life, or even candy.

Traditional Flower Leis

Giving floral leis at graduation has long been a tradition at schools in Hawaii; leis from family members and friends represent aloha (love) and congratulations for the graduate and also symbolize wishes for good luck. The tradition of piling on multiple leis leaves some graduates barely able to see over all the flowers. Some graduation leis have a ribbon on one side which the graduates move to the other side at the same time they switch the tassel on their cap. As with other Hawaiian leis, graduation leis can contain shells, feathers or other natural materials.

Money Leis

Money leis are extremely popular with graduates and are a fun alternative to simply putting cash in a card or envelope. Money leis can be purchased commercially, but are more often homemade. They can be made with either coins or bills. Coins are individually wrapped in cellophane and tied onto the lei with ribbon; some are interspersed with flowers. Crisp new bills are folded tightly, then fanned out and fastened to the lei with wire or ribbon. Some money leis combine both the wrapped coins and the fanned bills.

School Spirit

The tradition of giving leis to graduates has now spread to the mainland. Many graduation leis at stateside schools are designed to reflect school spirit by incorporating flowers, yarn, ribbons or other materials in the graduate's school colors. Students often braid or weave them for classmates from colored yarn, including the popular eyelash yarn, which provides a wispy effect like the old-style feathered leis from Hawaii.

Non-Traditional Leis

Modern leis include many non-traditional materials. Candy leis are popular with graduates, especially for younger grades. These are usually homemade. Some students have made leis incorporating origami cranes or other figures that are symbolic of a special event or activity in their lives. Other leis are primarily made from real or silk flowers, then interspersed with school-colored items, sports symbols for athletes, music clefs, instruments or ballet emblems for performers or plastic or metal charms with the year of graduation.

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