Aloha Spirit

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Hawai‘i? Why did you come to cold, rainy Oregon for college? I would have never left beautiful, sunny Hawai’i.” 

Upon arriving at Pacific University for my freshman year of college, I found myself having conversations like this one over and over again.

“Why not?” I would respond.

Having been born and raised in Hawai‘i, I yearned to travel to learn more about different cultures and to see the world. I arrived at Pacific University with an open mind about the many personalities I’d meet in college and I desired to share a part of myself — my Hawaiian culture — with them.

Before landing in Oregon, I already knew that Na Haumana O Hawai‘i, Pacific’s Hawai‘i Club, hosted an annual Lu‘au for its community. I wanted to continue dancing hula, so I knew that I would make an effort to participate.

But I had zero interest in being heavily involved.

Imagine my surprise when I was recruited to choreograph dances, co-chair a committee and eventually serve as head chairperson for the 50th anniversary Lu‘au.

Planning and preparing for the Lu’au begins almost immediately at the conclusion of the one before. In the fall, students gather to brainstorm ideas for their committees. They begin practicing their dances in February. They spend hours during and after rehearsals perfecting and memorizing dance moves that most have never experienced before. 

For many of the NHOH students, the Lu’au is their first time in front of an audience and on a stage and — although most in the club are from Hawai’i — many never learned to dance the hula before coming to Pacific. 

Lu‘au enables students from Hawai’i to bring our home to Oregon, even if it’s for only one night. It is a time for students to teach their classmates from different states and countries about their culture. Hawai’i is a melting pot of ethnicities — Hawaiian, Japanese, German, Chinese, African American, Italian, Tongan, Native American, Filipino, Samoan and Caucasian, to name a few — and many students from Hawai’i represent those groups at Pacific. 

"NHOH and the Lu‘au gave my classmates and me something to be proud of."
– Lacey Chong'11, MAT '12

The sights (flowers, dance, people), sounds (familiar songs, laughter), and smells (authentic Hawaiian food) that Lu’au brings to the Forest Grove Campus make the distance between Hawai’i and Oregon feel manageable.

For many, being at Pacific is their first experience living away from the comfort of their families. Lu’au encourages students to rely on each other for support. Many students from Hawai’i, similar to other out-of-state students, do not have the luxury of doing laundry at home with Mom and Dad, and they rarely enjoy home-cooked comfort foods from the Islands. 

The friendships students build in NHOH and during Lu’au give them time to grow and learn life skills, such as cooking, cleaning and time management. And, the club and Lu‘au bring students from Hawai’i together to foster new friendships and help suppress the homesickness some may experience.

Lu‘au is a lot of work. Every year, NHOH is blessed to receive help from faculty and staff who provide the club with their support and service. Parents from Hawai‘i and the mainland lend a helping hand in the islands and in Oregon, collecting donations, making costumes and bringing the Aloha spirit to campus with them. Most importantly, they continue to provide love and support for their children and for students whose families aren’t able to make the trip.

Our fellow students who are not from Hawai‘i get involved, too. They help serve food, and they welcome and seat guests for the performance. Many students bring their families and friends to partake in the celebration. Some even participate in the show: Pacific University offers a one-credit hula class during the spring semester, open to any student. Participants learn basic hula steps, phrases and a song, and the hula class number at Lu‘au typically is the only one to use all-authentic Hawaiian implements.

Pacific University’s NHOH annual Lu’au has evolved over the past 53 years. Today, it is a tremendous event encompassing a huge number of students and volunteers who create a wonderful meal and show for their community. 

To have such a wonderful opportunity to grow as individuals and to learn about ourselves makes this endeavor worthwhile. We learn teamwork, cooperation, patience and humility. The work is hard and the hours long, but the lessons learned and friendships made — plus the happy faces seen after a job well done — are more than enough to keep us doing the Lu’au over and over again.

Lacey Chong ’11, MAT ’12 participated in Lu’au as an undergraduate and graduate student. She now teaches young children at the Pacific University Early Learning Community and continues to help with Lu’au as an alumna. She taught this spring’s hula class on campus.

This story first appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of Pacific magazine. For more stories, visit

Wednesday, May 1, 2013