Petition circulating on SHS grad site

Published 3:05 pm Wednesday, March 4, 2020

By Diana McFarland


More than 1,800 people as of Friday have signed a petition to keep the Smithfield High School graduation ceremony outside on the football field. 

Smithfield High School student Devon Strothers started the petition that is directed to the Isle of Wight County School Board. Strothers set a goal of 2,500  signatures. 

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Interim Smithfield High School Principal Christopher Coleman sent a letter to parents late last month informing them that the graduation will be in the gym, with additional seating for guests in the auditorium and cafeteria. The ceremony will be streamed for viewing, according to Coleman. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

Isle of Wight County spokesperson Lynn Briggs said the decision to move it indoors was made after last year’s graduation, when it was moved to the gym due to the weather. 

“We heard many positive comments from attendees about how nice the event was in the gym — less walking, much cooler, parents could actually “see” their child since they were sitting closer to the graduates than in the football,” said  Briggs.

Those who oppose moving it to the gym object to having some friends and family members relegated to the cafeteria or auditorium, and having to watch their graduate on a screen. 

“This is not enough seating for all our family and friends. Even with just one pep rally, the gymnasium is filled to the point of bursting. They will be limiting available tickets to four per person, the rest of your family and friends will be forced to watch their loved one graduate from behind a screen in the cafeteria or auditorium,” wrote Strothers on the petition website.

Coleman’s letter stated that students would receive more tickets — eight — than if the ceremony were held on the football field. The breakdown would be four for the gym and two each for the cafeteria and auditorium.

Briggs, who helped write the letter,  said it could have stated the ticket issue better, as students actually received 10 tickets for the football field in the past. 

When the ceremony was moved inside last  year, graduates could use six of the ten tickets, so in reality, it’s two less than when it was traditionally held on the football field, weather-permitting, said Briggs. 

Heat and bad weather have been an issue over the years. In 2008, it was smoke from a fire in the Dismal Swamp that drove the ceremony indoors at the last minute. In 2015, nine people required medical attention due to heat and humidity. Briggs said that one year, a storm blew up, causing officials to hurriedly read off the graduates names. 

“Kids were grabbing diplomas and running to the school,” said Briggs.

Briggs said the graduation has been held in the morning, since it’s in June and bad weather tends to occur later in the day. Windsor High School has its graduation on Friday night in the gym. 

The School Board had looked into a moving the ceremony to another location, such as the Hampton Roads Convention Center. The division issued a survey to parents and students a few years ago, but it came back with a 50-50 split, said Briggs.  

Isle of Wight County currently does not have a venue large enough to provide seating comparable to the Hampton Roads Convention Center or other large arenas in other local metro areas. The Smithfield Center has a lecture-style capacity of 400 and the Windsor Town Center can hold 500 people. 

Heather Forbes, who has a child graduating in June, said the students want an indoor location so everyone is comfortable, but that the gym is simply too small. Forbes said traveling to Hampton wasn’t a big deal to her.

“We live in Smithfield. We’re inclined to travel to go shopping. Crossing the bridge to Hampton is no big deal for us,” she said. 

The School Board needs to settle on a permanent location, said Forbes. 

“We’re only going to get bigger, not smaller,” said Forbes of the Smithfield graduating class.

Briggs said it seems to break down into three camps — keep graduation at the football field, have it inside at the school or find an off-site location.

“There’s not a perfect solution.”  {/mprestriction}