The Rhinelander High School Class of 2021 will break from tradition and celebrate commencement on a Friday evening, following a decision by the school district's Board of Education Dec. 16.
According to board policy, graduation is to take place the Sunday before the last day of school. In 2021, that would be May 30, the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. However, at the Dec. 9 meeting of the district's operations and strategic planning committee, the pros and cons of holding commencement on Friday versus Sunday was debated.
The RHS staff had recommended the Friday graduation when they were polled, but the committee directed the administration to poll current juniors as to which day they would prefer.
District superintendent Kelli Jacobi announced the results of the poll during the Dec. 16 meeting.
"There are 227 students in that class, 63 responses to the survey, 33 chose Friday evening and 30 chose Sunday afternoon," Jacobi said.
"That cleans it up nicely," observed board member Duane Frey.
"And we left (the poll) open until just past noon today," Jacobi added.
Board member Mike Roberts then moved to approve the 2020-2021 school year calendar with graduation scheduled for May 28. David Holperin seconded the motion. This allowed for another discussion of the pros and cons of the two dates, and the board members quickly found themselves having almost the same discussion as the committee did a week earlier.
Operations committee chair Roberts told the board that the Friday date had been the recommendation of RHS teachers, staff and administrators.
"Which also makes it easier for the teachers and principals to be able to come to graduation, too," Roberts said. "I'm sure that's the reason they thought that Friday would be better."
"I have a hard time supporting this," said Judy Conlin. "I know it's Memorial Day weekend, but for families that want to attend that do not live in town, it means they're going to have to take a day of vacation in order to come up for graduation. To some of our students and their families, this will be the only graduation ceremony, not all go on to college where parents can say, well, I might not be able to attend the high school one, but I will attend the technical or university."
She added that in today's world, not all families live in the immediate area anymore, and that even people coming from the southern part of the state appreciate the Sunday graduation.
Board member Mary Peterson agreed.
"Having it (graduation) on a Sunday, they have Saturday for travel," Peterson said.
Peterson said the town she grew up in had graduation on Thursday.
"But we didn't have many people coming from elsewhere," Peterson said. "It was just something that community did. Now we always do Sunday, this is the biggest thing, because we're changing what has been."
Holperin said the operations and strategic planning committee meeting looked at the point of view of people like Peterson and Conlin, but also noted there are many families that have long-standing travel plans for Memorial Day weekend.
"They have arrangements, many times it's traditional travel, they go every Memorial Day," Holperin said. "And that's why we thought it best to put it out for a vote."
Unlike Roberts, Holperin thought 63 responses out of 227 students was a success.
"They spoke, and it's evenly split," Holperin said. "You can slice this thing seven ways to Sunday and you're still going to end up flipping a coin, just like they did on the survey. I'm good with Friday, I was originally leaning toward Sunday."
Board member Merlin Van Buren also made the case for a Friday graduation.
"For the band and chorus members I think for Memorial Day weekend to ask them to come on a Sunday afternoon, you're asking a lot of them, too," Van Buren said. "To give up your weekend, for those who aren't graduating but have to perform, and you say you have to stay home that weekend, I think Friday night is better for them."
Peterson countered Van Buren's point by saying that both the band and chorus are already performing on Memorial Day weekend for other events, so they would have already committed their weekend.
RHS principal Shane Dornfeld was asked to comment.
"I think that families come from out of town, but it was unanimous in our group to have it Friday night," Dornfeld said. "I think because it falls on Memorial Day weekend is what makes it tough. I think if it had been the weekend before that or after that, I think it would be more palatable."
Dornfeld was asked if families would be willing to split their Memorial Day weekend, and he said they would.
"It's going to be a different situation for every family, depending on if they have a lot of family around here versus down south or in the central part of the state," Dornfeld said. "Who knows?"
June 6 was then discussed as an option.
"We used to have graduation on the Sunday after the last day of school, and we opted to move it to before the last day of school," Conlin said. "But in eight years it has never hit on Memorial Day weekend, and we might want to consider moving it for this year to June 6."
She made a motion to amend the date to June 6, but it died due to a lack of a second.
After getting clarification from Jacobi that the survey results leaned toward Friday and that was the original recommendation from the RHS leadership team, Ann Munninghoff Eshelman said she would also be voting for Friday.
"We have to support them (the building administrators)," Eshelman said. "I do understand that two-thirds of the people didn't respond, but I would assume that means it is not a biggie as far as they are concerned."
When the roll was called all board members except Conlin and Peterson voted to hold the 2021 graduation ceremony on Friday.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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