The graduation commencement week begins with Baccalaureate, a farewell address delivered to Punahou's graduating class and typically held at the historic Central Union Church. Parents are recruited to help with preparations, including the making of the garland that beautifully decorates the front of the church balcony.
History and Traditions
Founded in 1841 on lands given to Christian missionaries by Hawaiian ali’i (chiefs), Punahou School celebrates its legacy of two gifts: the centering focus of place, of the ‘aina, and an educational vision of pioneering missionaries. The intersection of a heritage of scholarly achievement with a reverence for place inspires a philosophy of educational reflection and renewal which thrives today. The early students were primarily missionary children, who were able to stay in Hawai‘i with their families for their education, but Punahou soon opened its doors to all the children of Hawai’i.
At the center of campus is the spring which gave the lands and the School its name: Ka Punahou, the New Spring. It is symbolic of the spirit of renewal, reminding the school community of its past while challenging each individual to strive for personal growth and discovery.
Punahou is a school that values its history and the many traditions that have taken hold over its more than 175 years. It brings together the diverse community of alumni, faculty, staff and students with shared experiences even as the school continually evolves to best serve students in an ever-changing world.
Punahou's annual two-day fundraiser draws thousands of Carnival-goers. The proceeds from Carnival help support the more than 600 students at Punahou who benefit from its financial aid program.
Since 1966, Commencement has been held at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center, though throughout Punahou's history it has been held at several locations, including Bishop Hall, Pauahi Hall, Front Street Church and Central Union Church. In 2018, the graduating class will participate in the first Commencement at Stan Sheriff Center at University of Hawai'i – Manoa. A tradition was born in 1963 when senior girls voted to wear Hawaiian Holoku instead of formal dresses.
Punahou's annual fall school spirit celebration begins with a home football game and includes an evening with great food, keiki activities, a pep rally and the lighting of the 10-foot tall Flaming P.
After their arrival in Hawai‘i, many missionaries became proficient in the Hawaiian language and eventually wrote Hawaiian lyrics for Christian hymns. Rev. Hiram Bingham wrote the Hawaiian lyrics to "Ho‘onani I Ka Makua Mau" which is based on the hymn, "Praise God, From Whom All Blessings Flow." This Hawaiian doxology is sung in Chapel from grades 2 – 12 and its beauty lies in the simplicity of the mele and the truth of its words, both in Hawaiian and English.
The annual May Day and Holokū programs are one of the School’s most popular spring traditions, offering students from K – 12 the opportunity to learn and perform mele, oli and hula. All students from kindergarten through grade 5 participate in the May Day program; participation is optional for Middle School and Academy students.
“O‘ahu a” was written by Wilhelm Gartner, Punahou Class of 1902, and was originally known as “Punahou Mau a Mau.” The original four verses are included in a publication, “The Buff and the Blue.” Sung to the tune of “Maryland, My Maryland,” the song has become the alma mater of Punahou School.
Each June, the Office of Alumni Relations coordinates a concentrated week of opportunities to celebrate and connect, both for reunion year classes and for all alumni. This “Alumni Week” includes a number of on-campus reunion and nonreunion activities, as well as a variety of class-specific events organized by reunion activity committee volunteers.
Alumni Week is the culmination of the efforts of Punahou School and an army of alumni and student volunteers. Reunion class committee members work year-round to create a memorable week of class activities and reconnection. The focal point of Alumni Week is the Alumni Lū‘au, hosted by the 24th Reunion Class on Saturday.
The senior’s final chapel provides a moment of reflection for students as they draw closer to Commencement. School faculty members and leadership pay tribute to the class in the intimate setting ahead of Baccalaureate, which will include family and friends.
In preparation for baccalaureate and commencement, the Senior Class intensively rehearses music for the events. Songs are a mixture of traditional, Hawaiian and contemporary, such as the “The Queen’s Prayer” and “O‘ahu-a.” Each year, the class selects a “Class Song” to personalize the events and express the spirit of their class.
Celebrated on the year’s last scheduled class day for Punahou Academy students, Senior Skip Day is an outing where seniors can enjoy an informal get-together before finals and the formalities of baccalaureate and graduation begin. The seniors-only Skip Day picnic is a unique event – an institution that first appeared on the Punahou School calendar in 1948. Today, the event is celebrated at “Kikila,” the White Estate, which is located in La‘ie across the street from world-class swimming opportunities at Pounders Beach. Since 1966, a Skip Day at the White Estate has been a graduation memory of every Punahou alumnus.
Since 1952, the senior class has taken charge of staging the annual production that occurs during Carnival. The show typically incorporates elements of comedy, music, theater and dance. Each show consists of eight acts featuring more than 350 seniors. Students must audition to be cast in various roles. Audition requirements include dancing a snippet of choreography on the Dillingham stage and singing the national anthem solo in front of a live audience. The Variety Show has become a beloved tradition, which helps the graduating class bond.