Baldwin High School student Ivy Kaanana graduated yesterday evening after she and her family won a successful battle against a requirement that she wear a dress under her gown.

Maui grad caught
with her pants on

Ivy Kaanana picks up her
diploma wearing the garb that
required a constitutional fight

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> Ivy Kaanana received her graduation diploma from Baldwin High School amid cheers from her family and friends who successfully supported her constitutional fight against wearing a dress under her ceremonial gown.

Donning bermudas and a men's dress shirt under her gown along with a pair of black suede shoes, the 17-year-old girl swept onto the stage as one of the 365 graduating seniors yesterday evening and raised both her hands in jubilation after receiving her diploma.

Kaanana, interviewed after the ceremony, said she felt hurt about the conflict but did not regret opposing the school's graduation dress code.

She said she held no hard feelings against those who tried to enforce the dress-only graduation rule for girls, and was thrilled to have graduated with the class.

"All of it came out good," said Kaanana, with lei up to her chin from relatives and friends. "Right now, I'm happy."

Maui District School Superintendent Donna Whitford, who overturned the school graduation committee's policy on May 6, said she felt it was important for students to establish rules that set an atmosphere of tolerance.

The committee said it felt participating in graduation was a privilege and that students should conform to a dress code to maintain the dignity of the graduation ceremony.

Whitford made the decision after receiving a letter from state Deputy Attorney General Janice Kemp saying schools could set dress codes for graduation as long as there was a rational basis for them, such as safety.

But Kemp said the state would have difficulty supporting the school's requirement for female students to wear dresses, especially when the dress would be worn under the gown.

Kaanana's mother, Helen Rosaga, said she is happy about the outcome but sad "it had to go this far."

Grandmother Tina Kaanana and mother Helen Rosaga were at War Memorial Stadium yesterday to support Ivy Kaanana as she graduated from Baldwin High School.

Rosaga said because of the conflict, her daughter wanted to drop out of school a month before graduation and not participate in the ceremonial march to receive her diploma.

"She just didn't want to deal with everything," Rosaga said. "I told her: 'You going walk. I'm going to support you.'"

Rosaga said her family members felt hurt initially because no one seemed to understand their point of view, including her daughter's choice against wearing dresses. She said Ivy had never worn a dress throughout high school.

Ivy's grandmother Tina Kaanana said Ivy enjoys participating in team sports, and when she was in grade school, she was the only girl on an all-male football team and played as a lineman for two years.

"Even when she was hurt, she'd still go to play," she said.

Tina Kaanana said she is proud of her granddaughter for graduating from high school.

American Civil Liberties Union official Brent White, whose group threatened a lawsuit on behalf of the Kaanana family, said he thought Ivy was courageous. He said he remained worried that many schools in Hawaii had gender-based dress codes.

"What's shocking is, a school can force girls to conform to old notions of gender identity," he said. "It's like saying, 'Boys can't wear pink. Only girls can wear pink.'"

Rosaga said society is changing and so are the youths.

"Our youths are not afraid to express who they are," she said. "Our job is to be there and support them. No matter what sexual gender you hope them to be, all we can do is pray and hope."

Rosaga said as a single parent raising four children in low-income housing, her family, including her daughter, has faced a different set of difficulties than many other people.

"I try to buy good things, but I cannot afford to buy special stuff," said Rosaga, who works as a security guard.

Rosaga said she cried at night thinking about the people who criticized the family's position.

"These people don't know me. They don't know my daughter. They don't know the kind of life we have. They don't understand our struggle. I was really hurt," Rosaga said.

Before the ceremony, Rosaga said, Ivy and other members of the family had a meeting.

"I told my daughter, 'You hold your head up high,'" she said.

And that's what Ivy did.

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