Leis for Graduation

Here are some FAQs (frequently asked questions) about giving leis for graduation. Or shop for graduation leis here.

What is the meaning of giving a lei at graduation?

At graduation ceremonies, it is customary to present a lei to the graduate. A lei is seen as a symbol of pride and accomplishment and a reminder of the bond between the giver and receiver. It also means good luck, hope, and joy for the graduate’s future. This practice has a long and rich history in Hawaiian culture, but it is now widespread in other parts of the country and the world. Giving a lei to a graduate is a beautiful way to demonstrate admiration, support, and love to the graduate, and it can be a great way to show how much they mean to you.  

Besides offering it at a graduation ceremony, you can also give a lei to someone if you know they have a special connection to Hawaiian culture or if they have the desire to visit the islands. 

graduate with leis and flowers

Are leis appropriate for graduation?

Absolutely! Leis are given for many reasons and occasions.  To honor and congratulate a student for their efforts and achievements is an appropriate time to give a lei. In fact, graduation is one of the most popular occasions to give a lei.

How to give a lei at graduation

When the lei is presented, it is customary for the recipient to bow their head and place the flowers around their neck. Some people may even finish the ceremony with a kiss on the cheek.  

traditional maile lei with white orchids

Are graduation leis cultural?

Giving a lei at graduation is a long-standing tradition in Hawaii that has spread across the US and the world. After the graduation ceremony has commenced, it’s customary for family and friends to gather around the graduate and adorn them with leis of flowers, kukui nuts, shells, ti leaves or maile, and sometimes money. It’s a Hawaiian cultural tradition that has been practiced for over a century.

graduation commencement ceremony

Who wears a lei at graduation?

Anyone honored at the graduation ceremony can wear a lei. Male and female graduates, deans, principals, various school officials, and speakers. Female graduates tend to prefer floral leis, whereas male graduates sometimes receive more masculine-looking kukui nut leis or ti leaf or maile leis. Flower leis are appropriate for all genders. 

What to do with leis after graduation

You can store them and wear them again the next few days or dry them and keep them as mementos. To store them, mist them lightly with water or wrap them in a wet paper towel, place them in an airtight plastic bag, and store it in the refrigerator to wear the next day. To dry them, hang the lei in a well-ventilated area and let it dry. 

Why do Californians wear leis at graduation?

Giving a lei at graduation is a time-honored tradition in Hawaii. Many locals that go off to college in California and the rest of the mainland have carried these traditions with them. Often, family members from Hawaii attending the ceremony bestow leis on these graduates, and the tradition caught on to nonresidents of Hawaii. Another factor is that many Californians travel to Hawaii on vacation and admire and appreciate some of the cultural practices, including giving and receiving leis and bring these practices back home with them.

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