Seniors' point of view should carry weight

Posted: Sunday, February 06, 2005

Kenai Central High School Principal Dennis Dunn is facing a tough test.

After members of his school's senior class began speaking out against a plan to hold Kenai's graduation ceremony this spring at the Soldotna Sports Center, Dunn agreed to hold an "advisory" vote to gauge seniors' support for returning the graduation to Kenai's Renee C. Henderson Auditorium.

A vote was held Friday, and Dunn is expected to make a final decision on the matter later this week. He's made it clear that the vote is not binding, and that other concerns beside where the seniors want to graduate may play into his decision.

The principal said the auditorium is too small to handle graduation. After fielding complaints from students and their families, Dunn said he decided last year to move the event to the sports center, a venue which can seat nearly 3,000 people — compared to the auditorium's 1,000.

Because large families — not to mention other students, teachers and community members — want to be a part of the graduates' special day, Dunn said the auditorium simply isn't big enough to accommodate everyone. When packed tightly for a graduation ceremony, he argues, the auditorium is just too hot, cramped and undersized.

Last year's ceremony, Dunn said, went off without a hitch, and he claims parents and students alike were pleased with the event.

But apparently, a large group of this year's seniors don't share Dunn's views on where graduation should take place.

Depending on who you ask, either most of the seniors want to stay at the school or a smaller group is making a lot of noise. Kenai student body president Rocky Ward said more than 70 percent of seniors want graduation at the auditorium, while Dunn maintains that number could be less.

The seniors spent last week stirring up community support for their plan to hold the ceremony at KCHS, a plan that includes bringing in ushers and setting up a live video feed in the gymnasium, where additional spectators can watch the event. The students argue that their alternative addresses the crowding issue and allows them to graduate in the school they love — rather than in a neighboring town.

In a professional and thoughtful manner, the seniors laid out their arguments in front of the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and the Kenai City Council. After both presentations, they were able to garner overwhelming support for their plan from both community business leaders and city officials.

On Thursday morning, the council submitted a letter to Dunn asking the graduation remain in Kenai.

Both the Kenai principal and seniors have good arguments on their side. Being able to seat everyone is a big priority, especially when family members from Outside have traveled thousands of miles to watch as their loved ones march into the future.

But there's also something to be said for school spirit and tradition. Kenai Central seniors want to graduate in their own school, surrounded by the memories of four years of football games, school dances, final exams and study hall mischief. Above all else, graduation is supposed to be for the people who earned the right to sit in the front rows — they should make the decision on where it's held.

When the winning team in today's Super Bowl receives its ticker-tape parade later this week, the motorcade will wind through the streets of either Philadelphia or Boston. The parade certainly won't be moved to New York City just because the Big Apple can handle more traffic.

If the result of Friday's vote turns out to show a majority of seniors want the graduation held in Soldotna, then Dunn has an easy choice. But if the seniors say they want to graduate on their home turf, the principal's decision will be more difficult, as he'll be forced to decide between what he thinks is best and what the students say they want.

It's not an easy choice, but it seems that if this year's KCHS graduation is really going to be for the kids, the kids should have the final say in where their day is held.

Here's hoping he passes the test.

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