A Tongan teen in Utah, California said he was forced to remove his ta’ovala before walking with his classmates at his high school graduation.
Finehafo’ou Malohifo’ou was told by a graduation administrator if he did not remove his ta’ovala, he would not be permitted to walk in the ceremony at Westlake High School.
“He slid off the mat, pinned his name to it so he could pick it up after the ceremony and got back in line, zipping his gown,” Fox4 KC reports.
“He was now last behind 900 other students.”
“It would have meant a lot to wear it,” Malohifo’ou said, reflecting on his May 31 graduation. “I know it means a lot to my family.”
The ta’ovala is a woven mat-like skirt worn by Tongan men and women in formal occasions. He said it was a sign of his culture, and he wore it to honor his family.
According to Fine, the dress code for the occasion prohibited leis and any other item covering the graduation robe, but said nothing about what was to be worn under it.
He hopes that by speaking out about the experience, the Alpine School District will reconsider the policy.