Carnival – Far More than Food and Fun

Although food, rides, games and fun have long taken center stage at Carnival, the event carries far more significance to the School in terms of what it offers students. For generations, the School’s Junior Class has been tasked with conceptualizing, organizing and running Carnival. They serve as co-chairs, division heads and booth chairs, and they also work shifts and volunteer in other capacities.

Along with learning how to collectively execute a huge event, they connect to the greater mission of helping the School raise financial aid funds. “It’s really motivating to have this goal to help other people get the education we’re able to receive,” Carnival Co-Chair Jaynie Fu ’23 said. “It’s been inspiring to feel we have this common purpose.”

This year, 260 juniors – well more than half the Class – served as student booth chairs, division heads or co-chairs. The Senior Class, meanwhile, staged Variety Show, uniting the soon-to-be graduates and providing those who may have never danced, sang or acted on stage with an opportunity to do so. Freshmen and sophomores also volunteered to work shifts at the event.

“There was no requirement for freshmen and sophomores to work this year, but a lot of them signed up,” Carnival Coordinator Taryn Yano ’99 Kabei said. “I think that really illustrates how amazing this community is in supporting the juniors and helping with Carnival.”

Like last year, the pandemic presented many organizational challenges. While the 2021 event had people picking up malasadas, Portuguese bean soup and other Carnival fare during drive-through events, Punahou this year held a one-day, on-campus event on Friday, Feb. 4, only for students and their families, along with faculty and staff.

With numerous health and safety protocols in place, Punahou students and their families enjoyed food and games on campus, and the Junior Class had an opportunity for their planning and efforts to come to fruition.

Fu and fellow Carnival Co-Chair Luke Sonson ’23 said preparations began last spring, with the selection of co-chairs and division heads, followed by weekly mango picking and chipping. Booth chairs were selected in the fall. “There was definitely a lot of planning, even with the uncertainty with COVID. We created a whole outline of various scenarios so we could adapt to the situation,” Sonson said. “The administration decided to go with an in-person Carnival, which we’re very fortunate to be a part of.”

Since that decision was made late last year, the Omicron variant emerged, requiring the junior leaders to come up with various modifications to make the event safe for everyone attending.

As far as what students gain from the experience, Fu said she and her classmates have definitely acquired leadership skills. “For me personally, it really improved my public speaking. I’ve had to talk in front of administrators and huge groups of people. It gives all of us life skills that you need to have a career in the future.”

Booth chairs also were not placed with friends, so they learned to work with new people and resolve issues when they disagreed on how things should get done. The result was that the Class got closer, which was especially important since the pandemic has made it more difficult to come together.

“The students were bonding every Saturday from June when they were coming onto campus to work together,” Kabei said. “Supporting one another, working together and gaining leadership skills will help all of them in their lives and careers.”

Even the pivoting has been a learning experience. Carnival leaders kept having to think of new ways to reinvent Carnival, which required a lot of communication, coordination and brainstorming. “The complexity of the situation required us to adapt a lot, and there were lots of obstacles that came up,” Sonson said. “But in doing that, we all gained leadership skills.”

Kabei said School administrators took all of this into consideration when envisioning this year’s event. “I think that was a huge part of the decision,” she said. “The School really appreciates the juniors’ involvement and all their hard work. With the pandemic, it’s obviously a difficult situation, with safety being the most important factor. But at the end of the day, we wanted to allow the juniors to have this experience. The food, the games – that’s all fun. We all look forward to that. But in addition to that, it’s all these other things that students are gaining.”

Even though alumni couldn’t be on campus for Carnival this year, Kabei said they still supported the event’s Silent Auction and Art Gallery. “It shows how incredible this community is, and how we all rallied together to support not only financial aid, but just the overall experience,” she said. “It was a very tough decision to not be able to include alumni, but every message I receive from them expresses happiness that the juniors and other students can have the same experience they had when they were in school.”

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