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School opts for morning graduation

Hernando High students plan their graduation for a Saturday morning, saying no to the customary Friday night.

To hear the school's administration tell it, the Hernando High School Class of 2000 has been a pretty good group of kids. But they haven't always been conventional.

Nowhere is that more evident than with their graduation.

Hernando's seniors voted this year to hold their farewell on a Saturday morning, bucking a long-standing tradition of weeknight commencements at Hernando County's three public high schools.

Hernando's June 3 graduation will be at 10 a.m. in the school gymnasium. No one at the 111-year-old school can remember the last time there was a daytime graduation. The county's other two public high schools, Central and Springstead, have never had a daytime graduation, much less a Saturday graduation.

Though the ceremony is still nearly two weeks away, there already is a rising sense that Hernando High's seniors might be on to something. Springstead High principal Dot Dodge said she thinks Saturday graduations are a great idea that her school may consider in the future.

And several School Board members hinted this week that they might like to see other schools move their graduations to Saturday, which is generally seen as more accommodating to out-of-town family members who show up for the big event.

There is also the hope that celebrations following a 10 a.m. graduation might be more tame than those that follow a 7 p.m. ceremony. "It doesn't matter if they have graduated or not," said Jane Padgett, an assistant principal at Hernando. "We still worry about them."

How the senior class arrived at a Saturday graduation is a little complicated.

Originally, they were angling to get graduation moved outside to the football stadium. Some thought that might accommodate a bigger crowd. Rain has been a frequent plague of past outdoor graduations at Hernando High. So it seemed logical to hold the ceremony in the morning. Saturday was the logical choice.

After learning that an outdoor ceremony wouldn't mean more seating, however, the seniors voted to move the graduation back indoors to the gymnasium, where it has been every year since 1994.

If the process sounds dizzying, it was.

But the result promises to be something to behold.

Graduation parties that might otherwise linger into the wee hours of the morning are expected to give way to so many afternoon barbecues that some say you'll be able to smell a burger grilling from every corner of Brooksville. Relatives who would have never tried to make the trip are booking flights for the weekend's activities.

"I like it because it makes it easier to have a nice graduation weekend," said Hernando High senior Katye Altieri.

Eric Kendall, another senior, said he prefers the early morning affair. The prospect of getting antsy just waiting around all day for a 7 p.m. ceremony doesn't appeal to him. This way, the party can last two days, instead of just one night. "It's one more weekend to spend together," Kendall said.

While most of Hernando's senior class is comfortable with the Saturday morning graduation, a few lament that graduation nights seem to have a little extra magic in the air.

Dee Dee Parnell remembers her cousin's nighttime graduation in 1990 with stars in her eyes. Something about it seemed special, said Parnell, a senior this year. "I think (the Saturday morning graduation) is easier for the parents in terms of getting off work," she said. "But some (students) are disappointed that it's not a night graduation."

If the Saturday morning ceremony presents any challenge, it may simply be in making sure that all the seniors get out of bed. "I think Saturday is better. I just don't think it should have been so early in the day," said senior Melinda Baake. "It's too early to get up. The cap's not the easiest to get on the female head."

A Saturday graduation won't solve the one issue that faces seniors at all three of the county's public high schools _ acquiring enough tickets to accommodate their family members.

With limited seating for spectators, Hernando and Springstead each allow up to six seats per student. Central allows up to seven.

Hernando goes the extra step of providing a live video feed of graduation to its nearby auditorium, where up to three spectators per student can watch. All three schools have waiting lists for any tickets that go unclaimed.

"You want to have all the people close to you come," said Chris Kies, a Central senior.

Typically, students have no trouble finding six people. Most would invite many more if there were room. "Sometimes it's tough to decide," said Cassie Derocher, who graduates this year from Springstead. "You don't want to hurt people's feelings."

The shortage is a simple product of numbers.

Each year, Hernando's gym is stuffed to the gills on commencement night. At Springstead and Central, where the venues are football stadiums, home-side bleachers are always jammed, and officials won't risk damaging their new rubberized tracks with temporary bleachers. Seating on the grass playing field, principals say, isn't practical because of poor sight lines, among other things.

That leaves students to scramble for tickets.

Students have been known to beg and plead with friends for leftover tickets. Some have been overheard offering money. Still, students and school officials say they haven't witnessed any ticket scalping.

Sometimes, as Hernando's Melinda Baake found out, acquiring extra tickets just takes creativity. She came up with three seats and coyly remarked, "I can't reveal my sources."

After being pressed, Baake disclosed that she found the extras by going to a source she figured _ accurately _ would have twice the tickets needed: She hit up a pair of graduating twins.

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