2014 graduation ceremonies split

Published 10:57 pm Thursday, August 8, 2013

Nansemond River and King’s Fork high schools will have their graduation ceremonies at Norfolk’s Ted Constant Convocation Center in June 2014, while the Lakeland High School ceremony will remain at the school.

The School Board made the decision Thursday night after reviewing the results of a survey of rising seniors’ families taken by mail and phone in June and July. The board also learned the price for the Ted Constant Convocation Center is comparable to what it costs the schools to put on the graduations themselves.

Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis said the Ted Constant Convocation Center, located at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, would cost about $17,000 for all three schools to graduate there on June 7. That cost includes the facility, security, parking, audio/visual equipment and more.

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Meanwhile, the division would pay about $19,000 for security, chair rentals and other costs to have the ceremonies at the schools.

“I’m shocked to learn we would save money by moving it outside the city,” board member Judith Brooks-Buck said.

The survey results threw a wrench in that plan, however.

Overall, more than 55 percent of the class of 2014 said they preferred an out-of-town venue where they could have more tickets to distribute to family and friends.

But things got muddier as board members delved into the survey results.

More than half of respondents at King’s Fork and Nansemond River — 57.1 and 59.2 percent, respectively — said they would prefer a graduation ceremony at an indoor venue outside the city with at least 10 tickets per graduate. No such venue in Suffolk is large enough.

However, only 48 percent of Lakeland respondents said they would prefer a venue outside the city. About 40 percent at that school said they would prefer 10 tickets for the school’s football stadium, and about 12 percent said they wanted an inside ceremony in the school’s gymnasium.

Board member Enoch Copeland, who represents the area that includes Lakeland, did not support moving any of the ceremonies out of the city. He especially objected to Lakeland families having to drive to Norfolk further than families of other schools.

“I know the people at Lakeland will be traveling much further than the people at Nansemond River,” he said.

Board member Lorraine Skeeter agreed.

“I can’t go along with moving it right now,” she said.

But other board members said they wanted to ensure there was enough space for everybody at the ceremonies.

“It was only a couple years ago at River, there were people that could not get in because it was at capacity,” Diane Foster said. “I wish we did have a place in Suffolk, but the plain truth is we don’t, and there’s a class coming up at River that is going to be even bigger. They’re just not going to fit in that gym.”

Brooks-Buck said she wanted to grant the wishes of the majority.

“Parents asked us to look into this; we queried parents about this,” she said. “They apparently have spoken. It’s their children who are graduating.”

Two motions — moving all the graduations to Ted Constant, and keeping them all at the stadiums — failed on 3-4 votes.

Copeland then suggested allowing Nansemond River and King’s Fork to graduate in Norfolk, while Lakeland stayed in Suffolk.

He ultimately voted against that motion, too, along with Skeeter and Phyllis Byrum. It passed on the 4-3 vote.