Tradition is one thing. Al Bennett, the principal of St. Petersburg High School, knows that well.
But he also knows that lightning, thunder claps, back sweat, mud-stuck heels and the frizzing of carefully curled hair can combine to create another thing. This year, that force will be more powerful than tradition.
For the first time in 88 years, St. Petersburg High isn't planning to hold its commencement ceremony on its football field. Instead, graduates will head to Tropicana Field. Five other Pinellas high schools are moving their ceremonies indoors due to the hazards of Florida weather.
Superintendent Mike Grego announced the changes Tuesday at a School Board workshop.
Clearwater and Tarpon Springs are the only holdouts. Clearwater is planning to continue at Bright House Field. Just Tarpon Springs plans to have the ceremony on its football field.
Lakewood joins St. Petersburg in moving off the football field and heading to the Trop; both had ceremonies rained out in June.
"We decided this year we weren't going to take a chance," said Lakewood principal Bob Vicari. "The school year used to end in May. Now it goes into June. You're in rain season, hurricane season. Those two, three weeks really make a difference."
At St. Petersburg, Bennett counted off three straight years of Florida's patented sunshine taking a dark turn. In 2011, the rain came down just as they started calling students' names. They had to flee the field. Two years ago, "We had people sick from the heat." Paramedics were called. Last year, they had to reschedule the ceremony, then barely got it in before the rain.
"I could see everyone there was uncomfortable — it was 90 degrees by the time it was over," Bennett said. "I'm a graduate of the school and said I was never going to move it, but when I got off the field and saw everyone sweating, I said, 'Listen, I'm going to look at a spot at the Trop, because it's just so uncomfortable out here.' "
All in all, half of the Pinellas high schools planning outdoor ceremonies last spring had to reschedule or relocate.
Tropicana Field also will host Boca Ciega, Dixie Hollins, Gibbs, Largo, Northeast, Osceola, Pinellas Park and Seminole high schools. Countryside is moving to the Sun Dome in Tampa, joining Palm Harbor and East Lake.
Grego said in June that he was speaking with Tropicana Field officials about holding more indoor ceremonies. "I think last year was a rough year," he said Tuesday, noting that each school made its own decision.
Bennett said he made the call after gathering feedback from staff, some parents and the student government. "I understand it's a break in tradition," he said. "Some of the kids are legacies, with fathers, grandfathers who graduated on Stewart Field. I have a son coming here next year, and I thought he was going to graduate on Stewart Field."
That tradition is why Tarpon Springs is keeping its ceremony on the field, principal Clint Herbic said.
That, and another thing: Luck. Not only did Tarpon Springs avoid the rain last year, but to the best of Herbic's knowledge, the school has never had to move graduation indoors.
The football field ceremony is "part of the fabric of Tarpon High," Herbic said. He sees families — three, four generations of Tarpon graduates — still on the field taking photos hours after the ceremony. "You can't do that at the Trop and other places," he said. "Eventually, they'll kick you out. They'll tell you to go home."
Contact Lisa Gartner at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow her on Twitter (@lisagartner).