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OPINION: Graduation ceremony a time for joy, respect

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This column is to clarify statements made by me at the recent Bedford County Board of Education meeting. The Shelbyville Times-Gazette reported that I said air horns (plural) blared at last year's graduation ceremony. There was one air horn but I have heard a (one) air horn also at Community High Schools graduation a year or two ago.

From the [story comments on the T-G web site] and a Channel 4 news report, it is apparent that we as board members have been misunderstood in our intent to clarify expectations from the students and the community.

The graduates have waited 13 years minimum, and some longer, for this moment; their parents, grandparents, other family members and friends have waited since their birth for this momentous event in their lives. This is considered the official crossing over, if you will, to adulthood. Each and every student, regardless if they are the valedictorian or the student who barely received enough credits to graduate, should be able to hear their name called loud and clear. Each principal at every graduation I have ever attended has asked that all applause be held until the end and the class recognized as a whole.

Shelbyville Central High School has over 300 graduates this year, and the ceremony will be long. Some have suggested that you should be allowed to clap after each graduate. Think about this: 300 students times 1 minute of applause = 300 minutes. Divide 300 minutes by 60 minutes in one hour and graduation now lasts 5 hours, minimum, and I didn't include speeches or anything else. Holding the applause to one minute would be impossible.

At Shelbyville Central's graduation last year, people around me talked and socialized and you couldn't hear the names, I saw several get up and go get drinks from the drink machines and it saddened me that we couldn't give our children, who are the grandest accomplishment that most of us will ever make, our full, undivided attention and to respect each other and remain silent so that every student and parent had the opportunity to hear their child's name.

At the board meeting there was no policy made to address this issue. The statement about being removed from the ceremony simply was used as an example of what has happened in the past and could be utilized if needed. We took no official action other than to note (since a reporter was present) our feelings that we wanted to support our administrator's efforts to maintain dignity for our graduation ceremonies.

At the conclusion of the ceremony you may clap and cheer to your hearts content. Throwing of mortarboards was never mentioned but I personally would have no problem.

One blogger posted, " Can we please remove these old, boring, senior citizens with accompanying mentality off the school board?" Allow me to say this. If I am "old, boring" and a "senior" at age 43 because I have respect for my fellow man and I respect them and their right to hear their child's name at their graduation ceremony, and because I, as a board member, want to uphold our administrative officials who work so hard to make this a memorable event and reemphasize their request to attendees to please refrain from clapping, cheering or using any type of sound device during the reading of the names, then please feel free to run for my seat in two years.

In closing I would like to commend Don Embry, Robert Ralston and Sharon Edwards and all of their staffs who work so diligently to prepare each graduation ceremony. It is not an easy task, and I apologize to each of you and particularly Central High Schoo,l if my remarks were interpreted in any way derogatory toward your graduation ceremony. To all of our graduates I want to offer my congratulations and encourage each of you to follow your dreams, set your goals high and never give up in the pursuit of your happiness.

Neeley is a member of Bedford County Board of Education representing the Fourth District.