Students Defend Graduation Tradition

GOWANDA — A proposed change of location for Gowanda Central School’s Class of 2019 was a much-anticipated discussion topic during Wednesday’s board of education meeting. Earlier this fall, Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson made a suggestion to the board of education about moving the graduation location to the new Cattaraugus Community Center at the Seneca Nation of Indians in Irving. However, dozens of students, parents and community members came to the meeting to defend the traditional location of graduation at Gowanda’s Hillis Field.

Prior to the public comment portion of the meeting, Anderson presented a slide-show comparing suggested locations. His presentation included Hillis Field, the gymnasium (where the past two graduations have taken place, due to rain), the auditorium and the CCC. “Hillis Field has been the traditional site for 50-plus years,” Anderson began. “It’s traditional, picturesque, and on a really nice night, it’s a beautiful place for pictures. The big problem is that it’s weather dependent.”

Although rain moves the ceremony into the gymnasium, which was the case in 2017 and 2018, Anderson pointed to problematic weather conditions even without rain. Excessive heat, sun and humidity create discomfort for graduates and their families, he said.

The gymnasium is also not ideal, Anderson said, because it gets hot very quickly. He added that the decision to move the ceremony indoors is made at the last possible minute, due to the tradition of keeping the ceremony outdoors at the field.

However, the logistical chaos of the last minute move is challenging for the school, which does not have enough equipment to have set-ups in place at two different sites on the day of graduation.

He noted that the school’s auditorium has often been considered for graduation. However, he said the 96 students that are expected to graduate this year are not likely to be very visible on stage and that seating for audience members is limited.

The Seneca Nation of Indians’ CCC was considered for multiple reasons. “It’s not weather-dependent; it doesn’t matter how hot, how cold, how rainy or how windy it is,” Anderson said. “The arena holds around 1,200 people, but I suspect we can get more in there.” He added that there is plenty of accessible parking, padded seating with backs, air-conditioning and more seating for elderly or disabled guests.

“One drawback is that there is Plexiglass,” Anderson said. “It is an arena, but there is a possibility that the Plexiglass could be removed.”

Following Anderson’s presentation, board member Mark Nephew suggested that the board visit the CCC during the next board meeting, which is scheduled at the SNI. Although board president Cindy Sutherland was appreciative of the suggestion, she pointed out that the many students and parents in attendance were expecting a decision to be made, and that Anderson’s presentation (with photos) was meant to suffice.

Sutherland acknowledged, “We did not solicit input from our students and family, and that is the purpose of our meeting tonight.”