As Punahou celebrates the graduation of the class of 2016 this weekend, there will be one thing missing from the occasion, something that once was a seventy-year campus tradition: the bestowing of a class gift.
Class gifts are a way for alumni to benefit current and future students while honoring their alma mater. Punahou’s records document the gifts received from graduates dating back to 1904.
Commencement was a week-long affair in those days and featured events such as graduation, a dance, and Class Day. It was during this celebration on June 18, 1904 that class president, Harold Castle, introduced the first class gift. He spoke from the balcony to those gathered on the shady lawn in front of Pauahi Hall:
Mr. Castle said that a country’s flag should symbolize the high ideals and noble aspirations which true patriotism prompts. As the Hawaiian national motto, Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono was the watchword of the nation, so the flag was the emblem which should inspire every true patriot to live up to those high ideals. Raising his hand toward the flag-pole he said, “Friends, I refer you to the Hawaiian flag.” At the same instant the halyards were snapped and the beautiful flag of our Territory was unfurled to the breeze. (“School Notes.” Oahuan. Sept. 1904: 14.)
Class gifts became a matter of pride to the class and the school itself:
The class of 1911 … left something besides a mere record. Anyone who is at all curious to know what it was, is advised to go up to Cooke Library and look above the door casing of the main entrance. There hangs a beautiful clock, which is about twenty inches in diameter, and made of the purest white marble, with hands and lettering of black. The following inscription may be read in fine black lettering across the face of the clock, “Presented by class of 1911.” (“Senior Class Gift.” Oahuan. Sept. 1911.)
Many gifts were proffered in the form of a Last Will and Testament. The Centennial Class had a particularly complex statement. Signed by Jerome Peacock (President), Shirley Leebrick (Vice President), Edward Ching (Treasurer) and Jane Silverman (Secretary) the class made bequests to a number of school efforts, some related to the centennial celebration.
Maybe it was the significance of being, as pointed out by school president Oscar F. Shepard at their graduation, “the only centennial class–so far” that drove Punahou41’s notable generosity regarding several campus needs.
Gifts Through the Years
Over the years gifts provided needed school items (a desk for use by the President in 1907, steel filing cabinets in 1926, motion picture cameras in 1946 and 1947, and textbooks in 1959), decorative items (a statue of Discobolus in 1909, a koa trophy case in 1921, and electric clocks in 1949), campus improvements (a water fountain in 1962, lily pond benches and trees in 1972), as well as scholarships (1933).
Gifts often followed building and program efforts. When a science building was needed, the classes of 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1941, 1942 and 1943 responded by donating to the Wilbur J. MacNeil Observatory Fund. With the construction of Thurston Memorial Chapel the class of 1965 gave the building’s altar and 1966 gave the cross. When ROTC was established sabers were given by the classes of 1919 and 1922.
Some of the gifts were great in their impact upon the campus. Notable among these are the main gates (1931 and 1932), the Centennial Class Bench (1941-lost in 1999), and the senior bench (1960 and 1961).
The Gift Arms Race
With the 1960’s class numbers grew to the 400’s. With this larger funding base the gifts became more elaborate and expensive.
In 1967 the classes of 1967 and 1968 joined to fund a patio complex near Bingham Hall. The area would include “benches and tables as well as concrete aggregate containing seashells, sand, and beach glass surfacing the patio.” (“For Class Gifts: 68ers Pick Patio Complex.” KaPunahou. 17 November 1967.) The gift would cost $3,750 plus some money from the Punahou Building Fund to get the site completed. (Do you remember the Hawaii Five-o episode which was filmed there featuring Punahou74’s Jimmy Simpson?)
A student lounge, financed by the classes of 1969 and 1970, would be another significant campus improvement.
Yet, while these gifts were welcomed by the school some were starting to question the tradition.
No matter how good the intention or how great the sum, the idea of class gifts is getting ridiculous. Year after year our school grounds are being encroached upon by marble benches, outdoor desk complexes, etc. Our beloved, limited open grass area keeps getting smothered by cement. … Let’s see next year’s class put their memorium money into at least a useful indoor machine or the cost of buying new books for the library. The time has come when our natural surroundings are of more value than our man-made creations. (Nordyke, Mary Ellen. “Junior Raps Class Gifts.” Ka Punahou. 20 Feb. 1970.)
Indeed, the writer of this plea did get her wish … in a way. The class of 1971 gave $1,000 to the Peace Corps to build a school room in Africa.
Punahou74’s Class Gift
Despite the darkening climate Punahou74 continued the class gift tradition. And we did so in a particularly appropriate way given Punahou’s history, given its spiritual heart.
Do your remember our gift? Probably. Unlike most gifts that were decided by committee and then unilaterally announced, it was truly a heartfelt gift from the class. And that is a story in itself.
During our senior year the chapel had been fumigated. Because of the building’s connection to the spring, pesticide entered the pond and killed the carp and other life within it. People were devastated. How could this have happened? But, as the saying goes, when God shuts a door he opens a window. From this disaster a class gift was born.
The gift was given following Punahou74’s final chapel service. While leaving the sanctuary each senior received a plastic bag in which swam a young carp. Classmates then walked to and formed a circle around the pond. At the given time each opened his bag, knelt, and released the carp into the water. Class president Colin Lee described the act saying “We return to the Living Spring a symbol of the life we have received from Punahou.”
The gift was warmly received. President McPhee mentioned it in his graduation address to the class:
Thank you also for you imaginative and delightful gift of 406 fish for the living spring. That brief ceremony, which each of you released his or her own fish at the same time, will always be a delight to recall. Incidentally, your fishes spent their first day swimming in circles in groups of 50 to 75, and it looked as though they spent their second day hiding under the lily pads. I hope that doesn’t foretell too accurately your activities next fall. I also hope to see you at the lily pond in years to come, looking for “your fish.”
So impactful was this gift to me that, yes, as predicted by Dr. McPhee, I regularly look for “my fish” when I visit the lily pond. Many a time I’ve leaned over and called out, “Remember me?” No answer yet but I keep on trying.
The End of a Tradition
As appreciated as it was, Punahou74’s would be the last class gift to Punahou. Deans and administrators called an end to the practice for 1975.
As graduation expenses grew higher each year and each graduating class wanted to “outdo” the previous class gift, the tradition became impractical, without escalating the cost of class dues. Besides money, ideas for the Senior gift were also dwindling. The Cooke Hall clock and various benches around campus are all examples of previous gifts; however, there is a limit to the number of clocks and benches that Punahou can use. (“Gift Gone: Seniors Ponder Fund Uses.” Ka Punahou. 7 May 1976.)
The school hoped that class funds would be donated to the building fund.
So what happened to the funds that Punahou75 had assembled for their class gift? They would use it for a reunion luau to be held in the summer of 1976.
Yet, while class gifts may be a thing of the past, reunion gifts are very much a thing of the present. But let’s leave that for another post.