It’s the morning of graduation rehearsal at the Sarasota Fairgrounds. Booker High School seniors meet first at Robarts Arena, followed by Riverview High School graduates. The next day, Saturday, May 30, the process will be reversed — but that time it will be the real thing.
Riverview’s principal, Linda Nook, takes out her graduation checklist and timeline. The list contains more than 25 dates, including the dates the sign-language interpreter was confirmed, the cords were ordered, truck transport for graduation materials and band instruments was arranged, student speakers were identified, a letter to senior parents was mailed and caps and gowns were distributed. Clearly, coordinating a high school graduation takes some planning.
Nook’s list dates back to Dec. 12, 2008, the first graduation-planning meeting. The actual event may have a running time of less than two hours, but the steps leading up to it take time, planning and a little hair-pulling.
“Constance White-Davis (Booker High School principal) and I were both hired as elementary-school principals, and now we’re putting on high school graduations,” Nook said. “We’ve both said it’s the most stressful thing we do all year.”
Graduation tickets and diploma covers with inserts need to be ordered, names and addresses have to be sent to the photographer, the Principal Award nominee needs to be chosen and visits must be made to senior classrooms to discuss proper graduation attire, timing and decorum.
The graduation committee also must be prepared for foreign objects, such as beach balls or stuffed animals, to be thrown in the air before the ceremony’s conclusion. Row captains are assigned to each row of students, with captains always on the lookout for students who are bending over — they just might catch them blowing up beach balls.
“This is the only thing I write a script for,” Nook said. “The first year, I was ready to start my speech and a beach ball went up in the air!”
Other than the occasional flying object, Nook says Riverview’s graduation is one of the most dignified in the county. More than 75 staff members play a role in helping to create a lasting memory for all students. The Riverview High School Kiltie band also plays during the ceremony.
“It’s really special,” Nook said. “The bagpipers pipe in the color guard, and I just get goose bumps.”
The nitty gritty
Rory Martin makes putting on back-to-back high school graduations sound easy.
The Sarasota Fairgrounds president says a crew of eight people wipes off the bleachers, cleans the windows, makes sure the bathrooms are tidy and sets up the stage and chairs at Robarts Arena ahead of time. Between the Booker High School and Riverview High School graduation ceremonies scheduled for Saturday, May 30, it only made small transitions between the two, such as adding one or two chairs to a row.
“Minor changes,” said Martin the day before graduation. “It doesn’t take us long to do a turnaround, because the schools bring in their own decorations and set it up.”
But there are some problems. Last year, lightning struck eight of the arena’s 35-ton air-conditioner units the week before graduation.
“When we got the problem diagnosed, we couldn’t get the motor in to fix it at the time … it was $1,100 to fix,” Martin said.
He says the most challenging task is dealing with emotionally-stressed parents who arrive late, after the arena doors are shut.
“They come running in screaming, ‘You’re not gonna lock me out — that’s my baby graduating!’” he says.
If the processional is in progress, parents have to wait for it to finish before they can enter the arena — if it isn’t already filled to capacity.
“Booker will be close to the capacity of 4,000 people,” Martin said. “Riverview usually goes over, so we have a building set up with a live feed. If the fire marshal says to close the doors, that’s it.”
Martin said graduation ceremonies are probably one of the largest events at the arena in terms of capacity.
“We want to make sure things stay calm because it’s a big day for the kids, these ‘young adults,’ who are graduating and moving on,” Martin said. “It’s a memorable event for them. We want it to go as smoothly as possible.”
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected]
Here’s what it takes to put on back-to-back graduation ceremonies
at Robarts Arena.
4,000 —people capacity of Robarts Arena
75 — members of Riverview’s Kiltie Band
30 — members of Booker’s band
8 — people to set up
8 — police officers needed for Riverview ceremony
6 — police officers needed for Booker’s ceremony
5 — people to clean up
1 — fire marshal
GETTING THE LAST WORD
Riverview High School Principal Linda Nook’s famous last words to graduating seniors at rehearsal:
• “Guys, if it doesn’t fit in your pocket, don’t bring it.”
• “Ladies, no purses or phones.”
• “I’m worried because graduation is in the early morning and you guys aren’t really morning people. Be here at 7:30 at the latest.”
• “Tell your parents parking is awful, and guys, don’t forget a tie. The bag of ties we have, you don’t want a picture with.”