By Willie Sawyers
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
It’s time to start thinking out of the cracker jack box and solve the overcrowding problem during graduation ceremonies at both North Laurel and South Laurel high schools.
What should be a glorious day for graduating seniors lately has turned into a tension-filled scrum between parents, grandparents and friends scrambling for too-few seats. Both high school gyms, as big as they are, cannot comfortably hold all the people that attend graduation.
For the last several years, some late-arriving parents don’t even get to watch their child graduate in person at North Laurel. The gym fills to the brim and the overflow is shuffled to the auditorium where the ceremonies are shown via closed-circuit television.
But at least it’s calmer in the auditorium. Outside in the stands, tempers flare between parents trying to save seats, and others who don’t recognize or appreciate the tactic.
The gym at South Laurel holds more people, but it’s still standing room only, which creates a fire hazard.
Both gyms get hot and stuffy very quickly with all the people packed inside them, which further enhances the frustration. It’s not a good situation for the schools’ big finale.
School officials have discussed the idea of issuing tickets to control the number of people who attend graduation. Each senior could be given, say, four tickets and that’s all the family members who could attend.
But that plan is not feasible, or equitable. If a senior has a large family or out-of-state relatives who want to come and show their pride, they should be allowed to attend. Many would come anyway, with or without tickets, and would not want to be turned away.
That scenario could get ugly real quick and would require a police presence. That’s not what graduation ceremonies are about.
There’s no other facility in Laurel County that can handle the crowds that attend graduation. But there is one just a few miles away.
The best and only solution to eliminating the overcrowding problem is to move the North Laurel and South Laurel graduations to the arena in Corbin.
The arena is large enough to handle both graduations simultaneously if so desired. It has plenty of parking, sufficient air conditioning and chairback seats.
The best scenario would be to hold one graduation at 10 a.m., and the other at 2 p.m. on the same day. North and South need their own individual graduation ceremonies. Moving them to Corbin will be hard enough to overcome, let alone mixing the two competing schools together.
Both schools could share the cost of leasing the arena, which is not that great, and a big screen projection system. Corbin High School holds graduation ceremonies at the arena without any fuss or muss. There’s no grumbling afterwards.
The biggest objection to overcome from some people is the stigma of having a Laurel County graduation in Corbin. People still cling to the rivalry between the communities. But that stigma, pardon the pun, is old school. There’s no room for that in an age where technology has brought everyone closer together and high schoolers talk to their friends around the globe.
Besides, even though the arena is located physically in Corbin, Laurel Countians have a stake in it, as do all taxpayers of Kentucky. It was built with taxpayer money. Corbin graciously has undertaken the formidable and expensive task of keeping it open and maintaining it for concerts, truck pulls, circuses, galas, public events, and yes, high school graduations. It’s there, might as well use it.
Local high school administrators overcame the stigma and agreed to hold the 13th Region basketball tournament at the arena. There was some opposition initially, but now most everyone agrees it was the best decision. The same will be for moving North and South graduations to Corbin.
Graduation is a special moment for a high school seniors and their families. Laurel County school administrators should not let another graduation take place where parents and grandparents have to watch it on TV in another room down the hall, or where they have to stand up for long periods of time.
The solution is simple, cost effective and the right thing to do.