May 22 was an unusually rainy day in the East Valley, causing several school districts to make decisions about whether to hold graduation ceremonies outside in the muck or move them to another location or date.
Mesa schools chose to implement a “Plan B” for graduation, which included moving their ceremonies indoors and splitting the student bodies into two groups — to graduate either in the school’s gymnasium or auditorium. Because it was a smaller space, the number of guests was limited, although the schools also had viewing areas where other friends and family could watch via closed-circuit television.
Kathy Bareiss, district spokeswoman, said there is a 35-year collective memory in the district administrative office and that no one there could remember the last time it rained the night of the graduation ceremony. A few people did remember times of high wind or dust storms.
“Someone checked and found out it hasn’t rained on that day in 119 years,” she said. “We’ve never had to take care of this before.”
Following the ceremony, some families said they were upset by how the situation was handled. Students were also upset because they wanted to graduate with their whole class and not just, for example, the students whose last names began with A through L. Parents were upset because in many cases extended family members or even siblings weren’t able to see the ceremony in person.
Pamela Long was still tearful nearly a week later about having to miss the ceremony for her granddaughter, Red Mountain High School graduate Breanna Lott. Lott’s mother and father got the two tickets to see the live ceremony, meaning her siblings and grandmother were not allowed in. But on top of that, the parents were directed to the wrong room, and by the time they realized the students with last names starting with L were in another room, it was too late.
“She worked so hard for four years. She got straight As and then none of her family was there to see her graduate,” Long said. “I really think the school has got to have a better plan in place so that this never happens again.”
Bareiss said the district did try to make the best of a difficult situation. “From the things I have seen, the parents who were outside in the rain were mad, the parents who were inside were mad,” Bareiss said.
Bareiss said once rain was forecast the district had two days to prepare and decided to set up both the indoor and outdoor event so that they would be ready to go rain or shine. On the morning of graduation, school officials had students practice for both ceremonies. “We really tried to have it outside. That was our plan if we could,” she said.
Once district officials realized the fields were still going to be a soggy mess, they began to notify students, explaining to them that the number of guests able to view the actual ceremony on site would be limited to two. Bareiss said the district looked into renting another facility and nothing was available.
Postponing the ceremony to another day was also a consideration, she said. “People do have family in town and there is an expectation,” she said. “And people have plans for the next week or even the next day. It’s one of those things that, no matter what you do, you’ll run into upsetting someone.”
Bareiss said Mesa plans to continue to hold graduation ceremonies at each school’s football stadium. In terms of making changes to their alternative plan, she said that hasn’t been considered yet. “We will try to look at what happened and see if we want to make any changes, given the availability of other options.”