Parents and students waiting to speak at the September 24 School Board Meeting.
Garnet Graduation Plan Ripples Through the Community
By Peter Jovanovich
When Rye High School Principal Patricia Taylor wrote parents of the class of 2020 that graduation ceremonies would be moved to the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, parents and students erupted via social media, emails, and phone calls to the school.
Among the hundreds of comments:
“There’s no way in Hell that they will be graduated there.”
“Why can’t they move the date that they start construction of the turf?”
“My other kids, graduates of Rye High, will not be able to attend. My daughter’s grandparents not be there?”
Taylor’s September 19 letter stated the importance of renovating the turf field at Nugent Stadium in time for fall sports as the reason for moving graduation ceremonies to the Capitol. The Port Chester venue is best known for its classic 1970s Grateful Dead concerts. Indeed, the theater’s bar and lounge is named “Garcia’s”, after departed guitarist Jerry Garcia. Holding a high school graduation ceremony in a “nightclub” engendered extensive comment.
At a separate meeting with seniors the day the letter was sent, Taylor stated that attendance would be limited to parents plus one guest. She further stated that “this change in venue cannot be avoided.”
By 3 o’clock, it became apparent the change in venue might be avoided after all.
In a letter to parents and students, Superintendent Eric Byrne and Principal Taylor acknowledged the feedback. While defending the decision to pick the Capitol Theater over other possible locations, such as Manhattanville or SUNY Purchase, they wrote, “We will continue to explore options related to graduation in the coming weeks.”
The overwhelming sentiment of the Rye High community is to hold the graduation where it has been held for close to a century — Nugent Field. Parents and students packed the house at the September 24 Board of Education meeting. Dr. Byrne opened the meeting by apologizing to the families and students for the “feelings of disappointment and anger this has brought on.” He promised to arrive a different solution in two weeks, after extensively listening to the parents and students. “I ask for a bit of patience. Your voices have been heard.”
The statement was followed by speaker after speaker demanding that 2020 graduation ceremony stay put. As one senior noted, “I have dreamt about this day for years. Of taking pictures with my family and friends. Don’t put a limit on our celebration. This will be our last day at Rye High. The last place we all see each other. Don’t make it some random place.”
“Why are you putting turf before the students? This isn’t an NFL graduation; it’s an academic graduation,” stated one parent.
Parents were particularly irked about not being consulted by the administration after all the hard work they put into passing the $80 million construction bond this summer. “You asked us to get out the vote, and we did – twice.” Several parents noted the irony that this class will not enjoy the fruits of the bond, “but you are asking them to pay for it.”
One of the parents actively involved in the protest explained that the “way this has been handled has created a great deal of ill-feeling. Not asking anyone – parents or students — about this decision created a void. It raised the question: Why is football being put before the happiness of the class of 2020?”
The solution to continuing the on-campus graduation tradition may lie in deciding to find a way to either move up the graduation date to May or conduct the ceremony on the upper field in June.