Monday, May 21, 2018
Education

High schools graduations in Hernando balance space needs, weather threats

BROOKSVILLE — It didn't take long for last year's graduation ceremony at Hernando High School to dissolve into a soggy mess.

As seniors marched to the football stadium, heavy black clouds opened up over the celebration. The seniors and guests were soaked, drenching gowns and ruining graduation caps.

Across the county, Springstead High School's ceremony also experienced a weather-related hiccup; it was postponed to avoid a similar fate.

This year, the schools decided to go in opposite directions for their ceremonies. Hernando is going indoors. Springstead is staying outside.

The decisions illustrate the difficult and often conflicting issues high school administrators must weigh and balance as graduation day approaches. It's a high-stakes time, and oftentimes it's impossible to please everybody.

"It is very stressful," said Hernando High assistant principal Angela Miller Royal. "You're trying to make the best decision. Inevitably, you're going to upset some and satisfy some."

Hernando High's graduation this year will be at Grace World Outreach Church in Brooksville on Saturday evening. It's one of three schools — including Central High and Weeki Wachee High — that will have graduation at the church.

Springstead will have its on the evening of June 5 at the school's football stadium. If it rains, the ceremony will be at 11 a.m. the next day at the school. Nature Coast will have graduation at 7:30 p.m. Friday outdoors at the school; its rain date is at 9 a.m. Saturday in the school gym.

While Grace World offers a lot of perks — not the least of which is protection from the elements — but it is smaller than the Hernando High stadium, and the school will need to restrict attendance.

Students are guaranteed five tickets and can request up to an additional five, Miller Royal said.

"It was a difficult decision," she said. "We do understand the history of having it in the stadium."

But she said administrators felt having the graduation indoors at the church was the "best move for the majority of students."

In the past, Hernando has tried holding graduation indoors in the school gym. But that presented problems, too.

In 2008, more than a dozen irate family members were blocked from entering the gym by law enforcement officer after capacity was reached.

The next year, graduation was moved back outdoors.

"We're just kind of limited in spaces where we can host that many people," Miller Royal said.

Springstead principal Susan Duval said that, in the case of her school, it is important to students and parents to hold the event on campus and not at Grace World, which was considered.

"Brooksville and Spring Hill are miles apart," Duval said. "These kids and parents are very loyal to Springstead, and this is where they want to be."

She decided to keep the rain date at Springstead as well after doing a survey at the school. Space was also a factor, she said.

"The stadium holds a lot more people than the church does," she said. "When you start dividing families up on who can watch graduation, it's tough on families."

At Weeki Wachee High, the decision to have graduation the church was as much about money as concerns over the weather.

"Being a new school, we really didn't have any start-up money," said Nancy Jacobs, a senior class sponsor.

Jacobs said Grace World offers a good price and a number of benefits, such as live streaming on the Internet for those who can't make it. Church officials have been generous and gracious, she said, and the school's first-ever graduation there last year was a success.

Still, space might become an issue if the school's class size gets much bigger, she acknowledged.

"It would be my druthers to have (graduation) in some type of huge arena," Jacobs said. "That's just not going to happen here in Hernando County."

Danny Valentine can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432. On Twitter: @HernandoTimes.

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