HONOLULU (KHON2) — It is hard to imagine a Punahou Carnival without the rides, lines and delicious food. Due to the ongoing pandemic, however, having thousands of people at Punahou is just not possible.
Crowds from all over the state have gathered on Punahou’s campus every year since 1932. Carnival Co-Chair Ye Won Ham, Class of 2022, said it was hard to accept COVID-19 would cancel the traditional carnival experience at first.
“I was thinking that this was going to be over in a couple of months and by the time we come to school, everything was going to be normal,” Ham said, thinking back to the beginning of the pandemic.
But this past year has been anything but normal.
“It was after spring break… We didn’t go back to school. We were at home, learning from home, and we were like, ‘Man if this continues… we are going to have to totally reimagine carnival as a whole,” said Carnival Co-Chair Tate Goodman, Class of 2022.
Ham, Goodman and the rest of the junior year class did not let the coronavirus stop them from finding a way to put on a carnival during a pandemic.
This year’s carnival theme is “A Carnival Out of This World,” and it will be mostly virtual.
“Safety is our main priority and I think having people that we can’t really track… I don’t think that was an option for us this year. So the majority of the components [of carnival] will only be open to the Punahou community,” Ham explained.
The art gallery, silent auction and even the variety show will be online. There are some in-person activities like kiddie games and a drive-thru movie for students.
“It was hard to alter a long-standing tradition that has been going on since the Great Depression, but we’re so grateful that we were able to create some new traditions and still raise funds for students in need of financial aid,” Goodman said.
While canceling a traditional carnival experience during the COVID-19 pandemic may not seem like a big deal, it is for nearly 1,000 students and their families.
Roughly a quarter of Punahou’s students are on financial aid.
“The demand for financial aid has grown significantly. If you look at last year’s financial aid budget and you looked at this year’s financial aid budget, it’s grown by about 30% growth and that 30% growth is due to the economic recession,” Punahou School President Mike Latham said.
Punahou Carnival is how the school raises money to support students and families on financial aid.
“This is really crucial to preserve access and to make this education affordable, and to bring in as many well qualified students and families from a broad range of diverse backgrounds,” Latham said about why this year’s carnival is so important.
President Latham said, this year’s carnival will represent a generation of students that will be able to handle anything life throws at them.
“Instead they really turned toward this and said, ‘Ok this may not be the environment we chose, but you can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond to it,'” he said.
There are a few in-person activities for current students only like kiddie games and a drive-up movie. The Punahou community can also order the traditional carnival food and pick it up in person.