For many Anchorage high school graduates, the party is in the parking lot
Confetti and music filled the air outside the Alaska Airlines Center on Tuesday as high school graduates left the commencement ceremonies and flocked to the parking lot.
For some grads, the party started once they walked out — and were immediately immersed in the electric exuberance of a parking lot graduation party.
“It actually goes back to a Polynesian tradition, as they say, of just celebrating achievement,” Damien Espaniola said. His son, Aiston Kahananui-Espaniola, was nearby, fully draped in leis as family members took photos with the graduate. “It’s huge in Hawai’i; that’s what we do, just love and aloha.
In Hawai’i, every student throws a big party in the parking lot, just like the ones at the Alaska Airlines Center, he said.
As the party continued, Kahananui-Espaniola joked that he was exhausted under the necklaces after around a million shots. It was heavy but worth it. He said the leis signify both honor and respect.
When asked if – if he had children in the future – he would throw a similar party for them, Kahananui-Espaniola replied, “Of course, that would be fair.”
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After two graduations on Tuesday, for Bettye Davis East Anchorage High and Dimond High, families held up banners with the names and photos of recent graduates, set off confetti cannons and had speakers blasting party music as the graduates left the ceremonies.
Lagi Silao, who sold leis at a stand for Grace Life Church near the entrance to the arena, said she’s seen the parking lot party scene grow since arriving in Anchorage a while ago. 15 years old.
There is good-natured competition between families, she says. The party in the parking lot “shows our people how much we love our children”.
Celebrations can get expensive, she said, especially because there’s often a larger, separate graduation party also planned.
Jezzerrelli Asia-Togia, an East graduate on Tuesday afternoon, stood by her family as a woman approached to put a lei on her head, atop a pile that already reached her chin.
“A lot of Pacific Islanders, we celebrate that because people doubt us a lot,” Asia-Togia said. “So it’s just a celebration of what’s next, and we’re focusing on our existence as a people to move on to greater things.”
Families are coming to Anchorage from out of state to celebrate loved ones, Asia-Togia said. And it’s moving to have so many people approach you to put a lei on you, she said.
“It’s good to know that even the people you don’t know are your support system, even when you need them,” she said. “It’s just our importance as a people.”
After the East High ceremony, Malachi Toa stood on a lawn outside the Alaska Airlines Center, taking photos concealed in hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in folded silver leis made by his grandfather. mother. Wearing them means you’ve accomplished something great, he said, and he’s the first graduate in his family.
But he wasn’t going to spend the money or deposit it in the bank. He planned to keep the locks as they were, to remember the accomplishment of the day.
High school wasn’t easy, he says. And he was looking forward to the parking lot party.
“I just couldn’t wait to see my family smiling and being happy and proud of me,” Toa said.
After the Dimond ceremony, in a row in the parking lot, Dani Milo danced in a circle of family members trained to encourage it.
[Anchorage School District shifts its policy on cultural regalia at graduation]
She said the party was an emotional moment. She is one of the first in her family to graduate, she will be going to college soon and her family is the main reason she is going there, she said. They were strict and forced him to do his homework and chores.
Milo thought about the loss of his grandfather and the death of his cousin. She said she loved it when her whole family was together like she was in the parking lot on Tuesday night.
Asia-Togia said that for families like hers, the party in the parking lot is not even the start of the celebrations to come.
“It’s not even a warm-up; it’s pre-game,” she said.