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A Burning Issue

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In the fall of 1961, the first “flaming I” was ignited and the tradition known as the Burning of the “I” had begun.  Forty-seven years later, Headmaster Val Iwashita sent a letter to the Sons and Daughters of the Class of 2010 announcing his decision to cancel the Burning of the “I” ceremony.  What could cause such a longstanding tradition to suddenly be wiped out?

“We should not have an event that causes conflict within the senior class,” Dr. Iwashita said.  For almost a decade, complaints have intensified from students, advisors and teachers regarding the exclusivity of the ceremony.  And for the past five years, Dr. Iwashita along with other members of the faculty, have been discussing how to revise the event.

Also in the past five years, students have been asked what could be done to make the ceremony better.  However, Dr. Iwashita said that no consensus could ever be reached.  The Sons and Daughters valued the importance, history and honor of the ceremony, while other students saw it as exclusive.  Naturally, since the Sons and Daughters are the minority of the class, it would be unfair to cancel the ceremony solely based on student response.  So instead of asking the students of the Class of 2010 their opinion, Dr. Iwashita took the matter into his own hands and canceled the Burning of the “I.”

But to his surprise, parents, and students rallied to bring back the Burning of the “I” as an inclusive ceremony.  Dr. Iwashita will strongly consider brining back the event if it includes everyone.  “I want the class to have a healthy, happy experience,” Iwashita said, “So I welcome an alternative that’s non-exclusive.”

Some ideas that have been suggested in the past include: the whole class being involved, opening the event to seniors as well as select underclassmen, having class representatives or having a lottery.  However, Iwashita pointed out that having 230 students burn the “I” may be a safety hazard.

So is there a way to bring back the Burning of the “I”? Members of the Class of 2010 and others have organized a powerful and positive rally for change, and the more support they get; the more likely the Burning of the “I” will be restored for the 48th year for everyone.

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9 Responses to “A Burning Issue”

  1. Cate Tilleka on September 2nd, 2009 9:35 am

    What consideration is being given to the fact that the burning of the “I” is environmentally irresponsible, in light of global warming? Why would we knowingly exacerbate climate change?


  2. Lafcadio on September 3rd, 2009 10:39 am

    Canceling the Burning of the I because it’s not inclusive? Please. Tell me, Val, how many people in the class of 2009 won, say, the Scholarship Medal? Did they all get to stand in front of their graduating class and be applauded? Doesn’t sound terribly inclusive to me.


  3. Stuart Ledesma on September 3rd, 2009 6:48 pm

    The entire concept and aspiration of Iolani as an “elite” school makes the banishment of a longstanding tradition quite comical. It was held as a celebration and as a rite for those individuals that endured the entire Iolani experience from their very begining. Sad to see such a tradition in turmoil, but glad it didn’t happen on our watch. Being a Son of a Son, I would have felt cheated without such an experience to conclude such a journey. One man’s opinion………


  4. Len Furukawa on September 4th, 2009 1:20 pm

    The burning of the “I” is a tradition at Iolani. Tradition is defined as a passing down of custom(s) from one generation to the next. In this case it has come to symbolize the Sons and Daughters who for the past 13 years have endured the Iolani experience…good or bad. You could call it a rite of passage that only they can understand. Other seniors have expressed displeasure with this practice, however, allowing this tradition to continue would signify that they understand and acknowledge the contributions of the Sons and Daughters. Where would we as an individual, a family, a community, a nation without tradition? Keep the tradition of the burning of the “I” for the Sons and Daughters. Another man’s opnion…..


  5. Rachel Won on September 5th, 2009 2:50 pm

    Being part of one institution for 13 years creates a natural pride and spirit of belonging–the school must feel like home to the sons and daughters. Their teachers from kindergarten can see them grow up, their first friends in school are still with them, their love for and criticism of `Iolani is valuable in all its fervor and bias alike–they are a unique part of the school. A revival of the dormant memories, recognition of the entirety of their `Iolani experience, and celebration of the finale surely is fitting for them and is the intended happiness. The exclusivity, (perhaps felt many times and ways by the rest of the students) that is most pronounced by this particular event is felt as truly a desire to be a part of this special pride and belongingness. This supports the reason to keep the event–the Burning of the “I” acknowledges the pride and belongingness felt, and celebrates it accordingly. Hurt caused by it seems to have always been, but the unique spirit amongst the sons and daughters must abide along with this event. Both sons/daughters and students entering after kindergarten need to have tolerance (see through each others’ eyes) on the problem of exclusivity, but also in the joy of being able to call `Iolani home (where one is raised). If this compassion never wears thin, I think the result would be `Iolani continuing this tradition.


  6. Iolani Alumni (not a Son or Daughter) on September 7th, 2009 11:51 am

    Ms. Till,

    Even though I love you, I don’t know how you could be against Burning of the “I” just because it’s environmentally irresponsible. It’s done once a year using kerosene. Plus, they also recycle t-shirts to construct the “I”.

    It’s sad to see it gone…


  7. Iolani Alumni on September 8th, 2009 2:16 am

    As long as `Iolani isn’t paying for the ceremony, the Sons and Daughters can burn the whole alphabet for all I’m concerned.

    As far as bringing it back without changes, it’s ridiculous that students would advocate the restoration of a ceremony that intentionally excludes them from participating.

    Thank goodness Val could make a decision to counter a very, very loud minority.


  8. Considerthis on September 30th, 2009 7:56 pm

    Any person who loves an institution and any institution that strives for excellence always looks for ways to improve the way that institution works. The Iolani “One Team” motto is a wonderful one–that the students and all the Iolani community stand together in a common pursuit of what is good and excellent. I applaud Dr. Iwashita’s efforts to have Iolani better reflect that motto in all ways. Given the Imua’s recent question and answer article, it does seem that there is work to be done in accomplishing this goal. I would ask those people who may be having trouble accepting change to see it in terms of bettering the school that they love.


  9. Mark T on November 27th, 2009 1:14 am

    I for one no longer see the point of the Burning of the I now that it has been altered in such a fashion. While I understand the effort of the school to uphold the One Team tradition in as many ways as possible, this is not a case where I believe that effort has been put to good use. The earlier posters are correct; this represents a tradition of having walked the entire Iolani experience from beginning to end. It’s not elitist in the slightest nor is it meant to be. There are countless traditions in schools across the country, public and private, across the entire spectrum of American life, that celebrate a group of students and their experiences in academic achievement, sports, good works, etc. Shall we dispense with these as well, because they recognize only a group and not the entire student body? Of course not.

    The divisiveness that students feel and express on this site is sad. The ceremony was not meant to create exclusivity and it is possible that Sons and Daughters (remember when it was only Sons?) over the years have imbued it with such a trait through ignorance or an incomplete understanding of just what it was they were recognizing through the Burning of the I. That ceremony was as much about the Sons and Daughters and their experiences as it was about the Sons and Daughters being proud to represent their classmates and the school entire; as much about giving as receiving.

    Val as much states that through these alterations unity has been achieved. In some sense it has. It has also diluted a longstanding and, dare I say it, proud tradition that once meant something intangible and a great swelling of pride for ALL who were there into something that tries to leave no one out not for school pride, but to avoid the misplaced voices of divisiveness.

    They should change it to the Burning of the WE.


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A Burning Issue