He didn't want to ruin the serious commencement ceremony for the other graduates but it was important to him to demonstrate his pride in his Hawaiian heritage. He texted his mother to warn her beforehand so she wouldn't be shocked at her son's brazen act. She texted back, "Think about it."
When his name was called, he doffed the traditional robe and mortarboard cap to reveal his traditional Hawaiian loincloth, a malo.
He was surprised at the reaction of the audience. Read about it here.
It certainly didn't hurt that --- as a young man unmarred by any physical ailments -- he was in top physical condition. Just take a close look at the reactions of the women in the audience.
It is a growing tradition among students of color that they display something that says something about their ethnic roots. A lei is popular among Asian Americans. Oftentimes, the colors of Africa or Mexico will be in the stole worn by graduates,
Kaawa told the Huffington Post's Carla Herreia he wanted to use the traditional Hawaiian malo garment to remind people "not to be ashamed of your culture, whether you are Hawaiian, Maori, Samoan, Tongan, etc." and to "know your roots, represent and perpetuate!
"Not just for yourself, but for your family, your ancestors and the future generations of your culture."