Red Friday hula says farewell to CEO Mailer

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Photo by Ka Leo o Nā Koa

Fourth grade student Kaʻena receives a farewell hug from Kamehameha Schools’ Chief Executive Officer Dee Jay Mailer as classmate Eliza waits her turn. Ms. Mailer was at the Maui campus, Feb. 7, 2014, to join in on Pōʻalima ʻUlaʻula ceremonies and bid a formal farewell to the campus before her retirement.

This is the ninth year that Kamehameha Maui has held Red Friday events. Pōʻalima ʻUlaʻula has roots dating back to the John Doe v. Kamehameha et. al. summary judgment in favor of Kamehameha Schools by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Nov. 17, 2003. In that judgment, the court found reasonable basis to uphold the Schools’ race-based admissions preference policy.

Leading up to the decision and after, as in the case of Jacob Doe et. al. v. Kamehameha Schools et. al. in 2008, Hawaiians turned out at rallies and protests wearing red to support the Bishop Estate’s mission to educate children of Hawaiian ancestry and oppose forced integration of the Kamehameha Schools.

Since then, beginning in 2005, Kamehameha Maui has set aside two days each school year to observe Pōʻalima ʻUlaʻula, a day of Hawaiian unity.

This Friday, students spent the day learning a hula accompanied by kumu on the pahu. Grades K-12 performed the hula both as a cultural practice and as a retirement gift for CEO Dee Jay Mailer, who was visiting the campus.

“Our school came together as one ʻohana and danced for our culture,” junior Temoani Keahi said.

Kumu Kalei Aarona-Lorenzo began the day by explaining the importance of ʻAuʻa ʻIathe hula.

“It’s hard for me, because when I was studying hula, you had to earn the right to do this hula, ” she said.

She asked students to remember three important words from the chant — kama (child), nānā (pay attention) and lohe (listen) — as they spent the day learning the dance.

After the hula classes demonstrated what the dance would look like, the high school split into grade levels to learn it. Each grade had its own kumu and respective areas to practice in.

The kumu who taught the hula were Kumu Kalei, Kumu Henohea Kane, Kumu Kuʻulei Alcomindras-Palakiko, and Kumu Ulu Kepani.

CEO Mailer has been with the Schools for ten years since she joined in January 2004. She had previously been Chief Operating Officer of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, with many previous years’ experience in management positions in the health insurance industry.

The actual ceremony began with everyone singing Oli Mahalo while  the elementary, middle school, and high school offered retirement gifts, followed by the staff and faculty of the Maui campus.

Senior Mitchel Dutro represented the high school by presenting CEO Mailer with a giclée print of his award-winning photograph taken at Hamakua Poko.

Headmaster Lee Ann Delima recognized CEO Mailer in a short speech.

“She came, and she helped us to heal. She did this by turning our sights from one side to the other towards the values that we believe in…and because of this, Dee Jay Mailer is clearly one of the most inspirational leaders of our day,” Headmaster Delima said.

She also thanked CEO Mailer’s husband, Mr. Don Mailer, for always being supportive of the important role she has played in the Schools’ progress. She has been at the helm through many challenges, including the Jacob Doe lawsuit and the fiscal equilibrium hardships of the early years of her administration.

After Mr. Don Mailer made a short speech of his own, CEO Mailer took to the podium.

“I just thank [the students and staff] for being who you are, loving each other, and being the pride of Pauahi’s dreams, her hopes, and her vision,” she said.

Then, everyone, including students and most of the staff, performed ʻAuʻa ʻIa.

“It was unbelievable,” CEO Mailer said.

With more than 1,200 people dressed in red and filling Kaʻulaheanuiokamoku, the high school gymnasium, there had been plans to break the Guinness world record for “largest hula dance,” but those plans were scuttled when it was discovered that the hula had to be performed in “traditional garb,” according to the materials from the Guinness organization. 

“I could feel it in my na`au,” junior Carly Kiaha said.

Kumu Ekela Kaniaupio Crozier had one more surprise for the CEO, a whole-school electric slide. Everyone joined in, including Ms. Mailer.

“You all have done so much, yet all I can think about is your future and it’s remarkable,” she said. “You’re going to go out in the world, and you’re going to do incredible things.”

In addition to heavy coverage by student media, Hawaiʻi Video Memories was on hand to record the historic day. They captured the action from a new perspective with a drone that hovered over the heads of the crowd. 

CEO Mailer said that she felt like all students were her children, and she hugged and kissed hundreds of them as they exited the gymnasium.