Sunday, February 18, 2018
Education

With rain in the forecast, outdoor graduations could move indoors

The first week of June marks the beginning of two distinct seasons: graduation — and hurricane.

And while caps and gowns are really little more than overpriced ponchos, Lakewood High School's Bob Vicari presented what he felt was a sensible idea when he became principal three years ago: Move graduation from the school's football field to somewhere indoors.

He was shot down swiftly. "You'd think I was talking about strangling one of their sons or daughters," he said.

Tradition, and in some cases a lack of options, has resulted in at least a dozen Tampa Bay area high schools holding their graduation ceremonies outdoors this year.

Graduates at Hernando High School in Brooksville were drenched Saturday night before the ceremony was cut short for lightning. Another Hernando County high school rescheduled its outdoor graduation, while a third went off without a hitch.

Seven Pinellas high schools will attempt to hold an al fresco commencement over the course of today, Thursday and Friday, despite gloomy forecasts.

On Thursday, the chance of rain — 80 percent — will be equal to the graduation rate at Lakewood last school year.

St. Petersburg, Seminole and Countryside high schools have outdoor ceremonies scheduled for Thursday. Clearwater High is making a go for this evening (70 percent chance of rain) while Pinellas Park and Largo are slated to graduate their seniors on Friday (a somewhat safer 50 percent).

"You're supposed to say your prayers," says Gary Schlereth, the principal at Countryside, on the school's contingency plan. Countryside's ceremony is set for 8 a.m. Thursday at Bright House Field in Clearwater. "I could joke with you and tell you we're going to give out 490 umbrellas."

All the schools have plans to move indoors if the weather proves uncooperative.

St. Petersburg and Lakewood plan to hold Thursday evening ceremonies on the schools' football fields, at the behest of students and tradition. And in the event of washouts, they would try again on the football fields Friday morning.

"The last couple years it's been so up and down as far as whether we can have it," said St. Petersburg High School principal Al Bennett. Last year's ceremony was rained out and rescheduled, but the class of 2013 still voted to stay on the football field this go-around.

If it's still raining on their makeup dates, schools will move their ceremonies inside. But because the auditoriums and gymnasiums are too small to hold 5,000 guests, some schools must split their ceremonies by alphabet or gender.

Ideal? Not by any stretch. But the Rays' schedule allows only so many high schools to graduate at the enclosed Tropicana Field each year, principals point out.

The other option would be a trip to Tampa, where all of Hills­borough County's public high schools celebrate graduation at Expo Hall, the indoor arena at the state fairgrounds.

Two Pinellas schools, East Lake High and Palm Harbor University High, hold their graduations in the Sun Dome at the University of South Florida in Tampa. But a trip across the bay isn't an option for every Pinellas family.

They'll take their backup plans.

Times staff writers Danny Valentine, Marlene Sokol and Jeffrey S. Solocheck contributed to this report. Lisa Gartner can be reached at [email protected]

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