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Change of venue causes fuss

Posted: Monday, May 24, 2004

Kenai Central High School is following the lead of two other area schools this week, moving its graduation ceremony to the Soldotna Sports Center.

But while the move will allow more spectators to attend the ceremony, the change of venue is not without its dissenters.

The graduation ceremony is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Sports Center. Also at the Sports Center this week will be the Skyview High School graduation at 7 p.m. today and the Soldotna High graduation at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

Both Soldotna and Sky-view high schools made the move in the past couple years, citing the excess space at the Sports Center. The two schools had been holding their graduation ceremonies in their school gyms, which each seat about 500 people.

The Sports Center, on the other hand, seats about 2,500 for a graduation ceremony. SoHi moved last year, and Skyview in 2002. There is no cost for schools to use the center for graduation.

KCHS is following suit this spring for the first time, and Principal Dennis Dunn said the reasons are much the same as the Soldotna-area high schools.

While KCHS is home to the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium, which seats almost 1,000 people, Dunn said graduation space still has been limited in the past few years.

"When we're in the auditorium, kids receive seven or eight tickets," he said. "For many families, that's just not enough. You have families with people coming in from Outside having to make some really uncomfortable decisions about who gets to attend."

The Sports Center would allow nearly unlimited tickets for students to invite family and friends to their graduation, Dunn said.

SoHi Principal Sean Dusek said the venue has worked well for his school.

"From everything that I've heard from parents and kids, it's been wonderful," Dusek said. "From my point of view, there's so much more space. Parking is very easy, as compared to here at the high school. ... It allows more people to come and watch the kids."

Dusek explained the gym seating before the move meant SoHi graduation spectators were sitting in the school commons, watching a live feed of the ceremony on television.

"It just wasn't working anymore," Dusek said.

But while the change of venue for Skyview and SoHi caused little commotion, Kenai's moved is stirring some dissent.

Kenai Mayor John Williams said he told Dunn the move was a bad idea.

Williams said the community lobbied hard to get the KCHS auditorium for functions just like graduation, and he believes it should be used.

"There are only 100 kids graduating, and that auditorium holds 1,000 people," Williams said. "Why that's not reasonable is beyond me."

Williams also said he believes tradition, community and school spirit should play into the decision.

"I know there are a lot of parents who graduated from that high school. For old times' sake, they'd like to see their kids graduate from there," he said. "I think a lot is tradition."

Dunn, however, said the students and parents are the ones who made the decision to begin with.

"There was a request that came both through students, as well as the site council, to look into the possibility of having it at the Sports Center, for one very simple reason: not limiting who could come," Dunn said.

"We discussed it with the senior class. We told them to go home and discuss it with their families. Then we gave every single graduate an opportunity to vote," he said. "It was almost 3-1 to move the graduation to the Sports Center."

Dunn said he's aware of the concerns about the move, but students themselves decided some things were more important.

"There has been some concern about moving it out of Kenai. I think some of it is that it's breaking with tradition, and it's just a difficult idea for some people to get used to," he said.

"What we talked to kids about was the importance of those people who are really significant in their lives having the opportunity to share the experience and just how important and powerful that opportunity is.

"To have those people who choose to be there the kids felt it was worth the compromise."

Dunn said the decision is in no way a reflection of the school's relationship with the community.

"We are so fiercely proud of our school and our community and the support the community gives," he said.

He noted that the after-graduation party still will be held at the Kenai Recreation Center, as is tradition, and this year's baccalaureate for all four central peninsula high schools was held at KCHS on Sunday.

"This was just an issue of including as many people as possible," Dunn said.



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