Polynesian Cultural Center celebrates 50 years

Polynesian Cultural Center dancers wow audiences in showcase dance performance.

The Polynesian Cultural Center celebrates 50 years since its opening

The Polynesian Cultural Center, located in Oahu, Hawaii, celebrated 50 years of operation on Sept. 10th. Former employees of the past half century gathered at the center to participate in two alumni shows along with other events to commemorate the milestone.

The Cultural Center was established in 1962 by President David O. McKay as a means to provide jobs to students attending BYU–Hawaii.

“The whole reason for the Polynesian Cultural Center is to enable students to get an education,” said Elder Russell M. Nelson in the Church News.

Today the Cultural Center is the most popular tourist destination on the island. The center features performers who sing, dance and showcase other cultural elements specific to the Polynesian Islands.

Dr. Kerry Muhlestein, associate professor of ancient scripture at BYU, worked as the assistant professor of history and religion at BYU–Hawaii from 2003 to 2006. He emphasized that the role of the employees at the center reaches much farther than song and dance.

“The students who work there are amazing ambassadors for the university and for the Church,” he said. “The employees learn lots about their culture they didn’t know before. That’s one of the purposes of the center: to preserve their heritage, their culture and their traditions.”

Professor Kerry Hull, a religion professor at BYU, grew up in Hawaii just minutes away from the Polynesian Cultural Center.

“I can’t even remember the number of times I went there growing up,” he said. “You want people to see and understand about the culture and the island.”

Because the Polynesian Cultural Center is a nonprofit corporation, all revenue is used to operate the center, while the rest goes to paying employees in an effort to support their educational endeavors at BYU–Hawaii.

Students who work at the center are able to cover a significant amount of their education expenses, about half of tuition, books, room and board, thanks to their employment at the Cultural Center. Typically the center employs between 600–700 students every semester.

For many, the center is the only way to supplement their educational expenses.

“There’s nowhere else to work in that area essentially. It’s a small town,” Hull said.

Just as many students rely on employment at the Cultural Center as a means to pay their way through college, the center couldn’t function without its employees. With more than 70 countries represented at the university, there is much diversity represented at the center.

“The Polynesian Cultural Center is an important asset for all involved,” Muhlestein explained. “Neither can exist without the other.  We’re better because of each other.”

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