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Students hike to the ‘L’ to prepare the landmark for graduation

By BY CINDY SCHUMACHER - | May 26, 2016

The 30-foot letter “L” at about the 2,000-foot elevation level was created and is maintained by boarding students of Lahainaluna High School. Students are pictured liming the landmark for this year’s time-honored graduation ceremony. PHOTOS BY ERIN THOMAS.

LAHAINA – The large “L” on the mountain above Lahaina Town was created and is maintained by the students of Lahainaluna High School.

The 30-foot letter at about the 2,000-foot elevation level is a landmark carved into the hill named Pu’u Pa’u Pa’u. Twice a year, students in Lahainaluna’s boarding program, the only one in existence at a public school in Hawaii, lug 50-pound sacks of lime up to the site to outline the red “L” in white to make it look beautiful for graduation.

Recently, the boarders, boarder dormitory attendants, boarder parents, one administrator, four teachers and a film crew hiked the steep mountain to re-lime the “L.” Inside the lower right corner, they paint the year of graduation and hash-mark the long side of the “L” to indicate sports championship wins during the school year.

“We use lime for the ‘L’ because it’s natural and won’t interfere with the ecosystem,” said Joanne Dennis, Lahainaluna principal. “Generations of families have sent their children to Lahainaluna and have found pride in the traditions it has established. This event gives students a chance to understand the legacy they have inherited and teaches them to give back to the community. It takes a lot of coordinated effort and hard work to get it to look nice.”

“The Lahainaluna boarders come up here to restore the ‘L.’ They pick up trash, they pull weeds, and they lime the ‘L,’ which means to carefully spread white chalk into the shape of the ‘L’ to prepare it for graduation,” said Randy Casco, Lahainaluna teacher.

“David Malo’s grave was lined with flowers and leis created by the boarders,” said Erin Thomas, Lahainaluna High School Career and Technical Education teacher. “They chant, sing and pray before doing the senior goodbyes. It is a sacred location and tradition that the students highly respect.”

“If you want something this special, you have to work for it. Participants work hard, and it is very much appreciated by locals as well as visitors.”

“Halfway up, the participants pick up the 50 pounds of lime and take it to the location,” said Erin Thomas, Lahainaluna Career and Technical Education teacher. “Then they hand-spread the lime in a wire frame that is anchored to the ground in the shape of the “L.”

Liming the “L” is a most esteemed event and tradition. Graduation night, the seniors go through the process of collecting their diplomas on stage. At the end of the night, when the principal certifies their commencement and it is time to move their tassels over, someone makes a secret call to the alumni who are stationed up at the “L.”

“The alumni who hiked to the ‘L’ on May 22 for this year’s graduation took a load of road flares, broke them in half and stuck them in the ground, lining the ‘L,’ ” Thomas explained.

“They lit them at the exact moment the ceremony was commenced, which made for quite a spectacle. This year, the ‘L’ was lit by the alumni Class of ’06.”

The “L” also marks the nearby gravesite of noted Native Hawaiian educator and scholar David Malo. Once the liming of the landmark was completed, the students hiked to the top where Malo’s grave is located.

“The grave was lined with flowers and leis created by the boarders,” Thomas noted. “They chant, sing and pray before doing the senior goodbyes. It is a sacred location that the students highly respect.”

Malo, born on the Big Island, moved to Lahaina in 1823 and was one of the original students at Lahainaluna, later serving as schoolmaster. He aided King Kamehameha III in drafting Hawaii’s first Declaration of Rights. At his own request, Malo was buried atop Pu’u Pa’u Pa’u.

“I’m happy they do things like this,” said Byron Kai, father of Lani Kai, graduating senior boarder. “Taking care of the ‘aina teaches responsibility and offers a sense of pride and accomplishment. Everyone in Lahaina feels a part of the ‘L.’ I believe it touches people’s soul when they see how clean it looks freshly limed.”

“When you are in the boarding program, the people you work with become your family,” Kai added. “I haven’t done a hike uphill in quite some time, so I felt the burn in the legs, but it was all worth it for this million dollar view and the tradition!”

“The respect I have for these students in tenfold,” said Ryan Jackson, boarder dormitory attendant and alumnus, Class of 2006. “My words can’t do justice to the types of bonds and relationships these students form. It is deeper than a traditional family, because they all come from different backgrounds and learn to become one.”

“I’m very proud to be a Lahainaluna mom and alumnus, Class of ’89,” said Carmela Garcia. “You have to climb this mountain to get the full appreciation of it. To carry up a 50-pound lime bag is a feat in itself.”

“You don’t realize how big the ‘L’ really is until you get there,” she exclaimed. “I’m very proud to be a Lahaina girl. Lahaina is a very tight community, and I’m so proud my children got a chance to come to this school. The community here is like no other!”