Debate over SHS graduation site continues

Published 12:50 pm Wednesday, September 14, 2016

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

Smithfield High School seniors sparked an unexpected delay in the approval of the school’s calendar after speaking out strongly against a proposal that would move the location of their graduation ceremony to Hampton in June of next year. 

After an impassioned plea made by seniors Carly Morehead and Sam Mott on Thursday, Sept. 8, the Isle of Wight County School Board voted to give Superintendent Jim Thornton the ability to amend the school’s calendar as needed after the high school reassesses the situation and the wants of the students. Morehead presented a petition she had initiated earlier that day showing that 165 seniors, roughly 60 percent of the senior class, wanted to keep graduation at Packer field.

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Smithfield High School Principal Casey Roberts, who does not require the Board’s approval for where to host graduation, agreed to discuss the topic further with the senior class at a student assembly. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

At the assembly, held Monday, Sept. 12, the seniors met and voted for the location, but those votes are still being tabulated since some students were absent that day, said school spokesperson Lynn Briggs. Administrators want to give all seniors a chance to voice an opinion. The most recent round of voting part will be part of overall graduation review, she said.

The proposed date for the graduation ceremony was June 12.

“I’m not making this decision unilaterally,” said Roberts of the location change at Thursday’s board meeting. “I’ll have to reassess based on the new information I’ve received today and then I will come to a decision based on the stakeholders.”

In her address, Morehead urged school officials to listen to the needs of the students.

“We had been told by our administration that graduating in Hampton would not cost us any more money … but it would cost us in spirit,” said Morehead. “It is unfair to rip this tradition away from a small class.”

Roberts delivered the proposal to move graduation ceremonies to the Hampton Convention Center this year, which he noted had larger facilities, with the added benefit of air conditioning.

“I did find this a surprise today,” Roberts said of his students’ petition to keep the ceremony at home.

The relocation of the graduation had been more than a year in the making, first proposed after nine attendees at the 2015 graduation ceremony required medical attention due to high temperatures and a lack of shade available at Packer field.

Roberts said that a survey of ninth, tenth and eleventh graders taken last year showed that more 55 percent of students wanted the ceremony to be offsite.

School Board members noted that, ultimately, the decision was up to Roberts. 

“I have to trust your judgment as the principal that you know what’s best,” said Newport District Representative Vicky Hulick. “But I do hope you are considering these students’ input at this point in time, because this is their graduation and it’s about them.”

School Board Chairperson Julia Perkins expressed her personal agreement that graduation was more meaningful when done at home.

“This is a very personal thing for the young people,” said Perkins. “I’ve been to lots of graduations during my teaching career and there is a tremendous amount of pride in walking down to get your diploma at your school.”

Both Mott and Morehead said they were glad to see the administration taking their claims seriously.

“I liked what I heard,” said Mott. “They feel for us; they know that it really does mean a lot to us.”  {/mprestriction}