For the first time in more than a decade, graduations at Portal High School, Southeast Bulloch High School and Statesboro High School will be held at the schools’ own campuses, Bulloch County School Superintendent Charles Wilson announced this week.
The schools have been holding the ceremonies, all in the course of one day in late May, at Hanner Fieldhouse on the Georgia Southern University campus. But some Southeast Bulloch and Statesboro High ceremonies have overflowed the university basketball venue the past few years.
Bulloch County school system administrators had previously discussed moving the 2018 graduation services, not this year’s. “But a recent opportunity for Georgia Southern to host a nationwide athletic event advanced the timeline,” stated a Thursday news release from the school system central office.
The Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championships, to be held at Georgia Southern’s J.I. Clements Stadium beginning May 23, were shown on the university’s baseball schedule in October. The location was known to GS athletics officials a year in advance.
Because the semifinal games will be held all day on Saturday, May 27, officials could not guarantee ease of travel to Hanner Fieldhouse or parking to people going to the graduations, the school district’s announcement stated.
“Our mutual decision to move our events allows us to support the university’s opportunity to host the 2017 Sun Belt Conference Baseball Championships the week of May 22-28.” Wilson said in the news release.
He announced the change of graduation plans Wednesday after talking to high school principals.
“This is a change many students and parents have requested for several years,” Wilson said in the release.
In the past few years’ graduations at Hanner Fieldhouse, some overflows of guests occurred despite the use of tickets by the two larger high schools to limit the number of guests for each student. In 2015, when Statesboro High had an unusually large number of graduates, some parents were locked out of the ceremony by university employees citing safety limits. This led to an apology from the university and a special replay ceremony at the high school for a few graduates’ families.
Smaller Portal Middle High School has not had this problem, but will also have graduation back on its own campus, where a $995,000 upgrade to the athletic complex was completed last fall.
New graduation times
Graduation times have been changed substantially as well. Portal Middle High School’s ceremony will be held 7 p.m. Friday, May 26, at the PMHS Athletic Complex. The other high schools will be graduating the next morning.
Southeast Bulloch High School’s gradation is set for Saturday, May 27, 8:30 a.m., on Fred Shaver Field in Brooklet.
Statesboro High School’s graduation will be held Saturday, May 27, 10:30 a.m., on Womack Field, behind the school on Lester Road.
“Our high school campuses are second homes to students, especially our seniors, and the stadiums are filled with years of school spirit and traditions,” Wilson said. “It’s only fitting that our high schools host these milestone events where graduates’ memories are in abundance.”
All three schools have plans to move the graduations into their gymnasiums if there is rain. Southeast Bulloch and Statesboro High will use ticket systems to limit the number of potential guests graduates can bring, with more guests allowed for fair-weather graduations on the football fields than for the rain-day accommodations in the gyms, explained Hayley Greene, the Bulloch County Schools’ public relations specialist.
The morning times were chosen to be cooler and present less likelihood of rain than the afternoon, she said.
Whatever the weather, the Portal Middle High will not use a ticket system. The school had a few more than 50 students in 12th grade as of October, and the school’s gym has 950 seats.
But Statesboro High has about 375 potential graduates. Its football stadium seats up to about 6,500 people. But parking is also is a concern, and the gym has only about 1,800 seats. So the school, which issued 10 guest tickets to each graduate of the 2016 ceremony at Hanner, may issue tickets in two different colors this year, Greene said.
Just four or each graduate’s tickets, in one color, will be usable for admission to the SHS gym in the event of rain. Adding the tickets of the other color, each graduate would have up to 13-15 spaces if the graduation remains at Womack Field. The final number of tickets will be based on the number of graduates, Greene said.
Southeast Bulloch High plans to use a similar system, keeping the total number of tickets for each graduate at 15, like last year, but limiting each student to four guests in the event of rain, according to information Greene provided. Southeast usually has about 200 students in its graduating class, and its gym has 1,200 seats.
The school system is working on a plan to use the Statesboro High and Southeast Bulloch auditoriums and cafeterias for overflow seating if their ceremonies are moved to the gyms, Greene said.
Last year, Georgia Southern students acted through their Student Government Association to have the GS winter commencement moved from Hanner to the university’s Paulson Stadium, as an alternative to an administration proposal to institute a guest ticket system.
Bulloch County Schools officials did not mention that this week, and Wilson emphasized continued cooperation with the university.
“Georgia Southern and its employees have partnered with us for many years and gone above and beyond to provide our graduates, guests and faculty a positive experience, not to mention sacrificing their Memorial Day weekend each year,” he said in the announcement.
Graduation invitations had already been printed and issued, so the school system announced that it is working with the graduation supply company, Herff Jones, to provide packets of printed cards with the new graduation dates, times and locations. These are meant for graduates to insert into their invitations, or to mail as a separate postcard if invitations have already been mailed.
Herff Jones is also providing one free corrected invitation to each graduate to have as a keepsake, said the school system’s announcement.
“We regret any inconvenience this change has made for our students and parents,” Wilson said.