“I can’t wait to graduate in Wallace State’s gym!” said no high school senior ever. After spending the end of last year wondering if graduation would happen at all, the wonderful news came that they were still to take place. The news was made better when students and parents learned that the ceremonies would take place at each school’s high school stadium. What an amazing end to a tumultuous year—seeing seniors proudly make their final stroll across the football fields where so many memories were made and shared.
There is a sense of calm and comfort that comes from being in familiar surroundings. A nostalgia provoking environment forms when gathering with friends and family in a place where so many great moments have been created. Even after enjoying a fantastic vacation, there is also a joy that is felt when returning home.
Over the past year, I have been asked repeatedly whether or not I thought schools would continue holding graduation ceremonies at the high schools. I’m not sure what the plan is, but every single parent I have spoken with has expressed their hopes of keeping graduations at their child’s school. As for the students, they seem pretty bummed at the possibility of their final high school memory not taking place at their actual school.
For many parents and grandparents, the schools are also their own alma maters and being back, watching their own children and grandchildren, is especially meaningful. So it was for my mother who graduated from Cullman in 1963 and was able to return to see her grandson do the same last year.
The desire to keep each graduation in the stadiums is not to slight Wallace State. The college has wonderful facilities. They just have no meaning to the hundreds of graduating high school seniors. It’s impersonal and awkward, and the running of families in and out of the coliseum like cattle is a bit of a buzzkill.
I compare high school graduations at Wallace State to visiting a new church for the first time or staying the night in someone’s guest bedroom. It’s tolerable and has moments that are not so bad but deep down, you long for home.
Students who are looking for those precious keepsake photos with classmates are gathering at their schools before and after the ceremony in order to have a backdrop that is familiar. That’s a pretty clear indication, at least to me, as to where these graduates prefer to celebrate this important milestone.
I suppose to families with graduates at different schools, the Wallace State venue does have its advantages, but does it outweigh the uncomfortable and generic experience of receiving a diploma in a place of which students are not familiar? Surely, the ceremonies can be staggered in a way to make sure families can attend multiple ceremonies if need be.
I am also aware that Alabama weather can create uncertainty, but surrounding counties and cities have managed to pull off stadium graduations for decades. Last year, several graduations faced some weather issues, but they were nonetheless memorable. Just last week, as my family gathered for Easter, we found ourselves laughing and reminiscing about last year’s Cullman High School graduation. It was a bit of a nailbiter as the clouds grew closer but man, what an epic ending it was!
As I covered the Good Hope High School graduation last year and the year before, the two could not have been more different. Last year’s seniors were the big fish in their own pond and the confidence they exhibited was undeniable. The previous year’s graduation was nice enough, but they didn’t carry the same relaxed swagger or seem to experience the enjoyment as the class of 2020.
Please keep the graduation ceremonies at the kids’ schools. There was an intimacy, familiarity and special meaning achieved due to last year’s circumstances. One that simply cannot be replicated on another campus. A return to tradition was one of the rare silver-linings of this entire pandemic so why go back?
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