Why do people in the US get leis at graduation?

So pretty shocked that this isn’t answerable with a 10-second Google, but its not. I get they are traditionally Polynesian, specifically Hawaiian (or at least that is where the US tradition originated).

But that doesn’t answer the question how did the Hawaiian traditional gift of a garland of flowers become so synonymous with graduation all over the US?

Do you have a cite for it being “so synonymous with graduation all over the US”? Because I’ve been to a number of graduations in the Midwest (grade school, high school, and college), and I’ve never seen it.

Never saw it in Connecticut. I can imagine this happening on the West Coast, though.

I’ve attended several in California and the East Coast (DC/Maryland), both college and high school, and its been as much part of the garb as mortarboards. Never seen it outside the US (though graduations, particularly for school rather than university) are much more of a thing in the US than elsewhere.

We do? The only time I’ve received a lei is in the airport in Honolulu and when I checked into a hotel in Hawaii.

Oh, and at luaus in Hawaii.

As for graduations, I’ve never seen this in Illinois, Texas, or New England, except maybe as a one-off for a single student.

So, your cite is personal experience. I think, then, that you really should be asking two questions:

  1. Are graduation leis as ubiquitous a thing as I think they are? (I suspect that the answer is “no, they aren’t,” but I’d be happy to be proven incorrect)
  2. In non-Polynesian areas where they are used, why?

No leis at graduation from high school in Central New Jersey, and no leis at graduation from college in Upstate New York.

Agreed about the New Jersey part. This thread is the first time I’ve heard of it happening at all.

Well “Graduation Leis” are listed on the Party City “party essentials” site:

So its clear they are synonymous to some degree.

But it never occurred to me it wasn’t completely universal in the US (as I’ve attended a pretty wide sample of different types on graduation in different bits of the US, albeit geographically centered on the SF Bay Area and DC). Those who have never seen them, how recent are we talking about? Most of my mine have been friends college/grad-school graduation or their kids high school graduations, in the last 5-10 years.

Graduations from junior high and high school, in the past 3 years. College graduations a few years ago longer than that.

It seems to be a relatively recent development here in Southern California. Never happened when I was in high school/college in the 80s. The first time I saw it outside of Hawaii was at my son’s middle school graduation in 2014. According to the census, my community is about 30% Asian, so I figured that had something to do with it.

But if Party City is pushing them, it could be spreading. Remember, 15 years ago no one had ever heard of a goddamn gender reveal party.

I’ve spent a few minutes doing Google image searches for the 2019* graduation ceremonies at my high school alma mater (in Green Bay, WI), at several high schools in suburban Chicago, at the high school in Alabama where many of my clients have kids, and at my college alma mater (University of Wisconsin-Madison). I found a mix of pictures both during ceremonies, and more “candid” shots from afterwards. I found exactly one lei, in one of dozens of pictures I found of UW commencement ceremonies:

*I looked at 2019, because 2020 graduations were, of course, atypical.

Why am I not surprised that a company that wants to sell you stuff thinks some stuff is essential?

When I do a Google image search for “graduation lei”, the hits fall into three camps:

  • Pictures from companies that want to sell me a lei
  • Pictures from Hawaiian graduation ceremonies, or for Hawaiian kids graduating from colleges on the mainland
  • Pictures from Southern California graduations

This, and the rest of the thread, suggests to me that, outside of Hawaii, it seems to be more widespread in California than elsewhere.

I’ve never seen it, either in the Midwest or on the East Coast, either in high school, college, or graduate school.

It’s not synonymous with graduation in the United States

You are mistaken. This is not a thing with graduations all over the US. In fact, I’ve lived in 5 different states in my lifetime and have never seen leis associated with graduation.

Yeah it seems this is the likely answer to the OP. Leis are (or will become) synonymous with graduation because people who sell you tat want to sell you more tat.

At my midwestern University one of my friends was from Hawaii and he wore one, and gave some out for others to wear. There were quite nice.

Other than that I’ve never seen it or heard of it.

I graduated from high school in 1975 and I never got a lei. This was 45 years ago, though.

As I was reading the above comments I was wondering the exact same thing as @griffin1977: Specifically the order of the causality:

Does Party City push leis as an essential gift because people want them, or do people want them because Party City is pushing them as an essential gift?

I’d suspect the latter.