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Board sticks with Saturday morning for graduations

While Washington County Board of Education members refused to alter the traditional date and time of graduation ceremonies, they did propose a number of options for the students who will be unable to attend because of religious reasons.
During a Jan. 14 called meeting, board members discussed the request made by Daniel Boone High School student Ciera Wilson to hold the ceremonies in the evening rather than the morning of Saturday, May 25.
Wilson and several other Boone seniors will miss the event because as Messianic Jews, they observe the Sabbath from Friday nights to sundown on Saturdays.
When Chairman Clarence Mabe asked for a recommendation for a date, board member Phillip McLain said he would like to hear from Director of Schools Ron Dykes.
“It’s the same as the original recommendation made 25 years ago,” Dykes said.
Since 1988, a morning graduation ceremony has been held at each of the two county high schools following the last day of school. “It’s safer for travel and the least inconvenience on a Saturday,” Dykes said of his discussions with school administrators.
Mary Lo Silvers made a motion to accept Dykes’ recommendation to hold graduation ceremonies on the morning of May 25, which was seconded by Todd Ganger.
The motion was approved, with Vice Chair Chad Williams being the only member to vote against it.
Williams said he had thought about Wilson’s request a lot since the Jan. 3 school board meeting.
“Personal feelings aside, I don’t know when the tradition began to have both (high school) ceremonies on the same day,” he said. “It used to be a Friday and Saturday, with the schools alternating days each year.”
Williams said he would be open to moving from weekend ceremonies. “I wouldn’t have a problem with a weeknight, but we couldn’t do both the same night,” he said.
Keith Ervin offered another idea. “Could they be recognized at the Board of Education meeting like we did with the softball team last year?” he asked.
Six Boone seniors who were competing in the state tournament with the Lady Blazers’ softball team missed the 2012 graduation ceremony and were later honored at a school board meeting.
McLain proposed holding the June 3 board meeting at Boone and inviting students who were unable to participate in the May 25 ceremony.
Board members seemed to agree providing additional options was a good compromise.
McLain made a motion for Dykes to offer students the options of being recognized during the alternative high school’s graduation ceremony, or a Board of Education meeting held at the Central Office or at Boone High. Ganger seconded the motion.
“Your motion is to offer a follow up every year?” Dykes asked.
McLain said the board is only looking at the current year, and Ganger suggested waiting until a student protests the scheduled date to consider offering another option.
“We actually started a precedent last year,” McLain reminded board members.
The motion passed unanimously.
A tearful Wilson said she was disappointed in the decision.
“The whole point was to graduate with my friends,” she said. “It wasn’t the giant leap I was hoping for toward change, but it’s a baby step.”
Wilson said she appreciated the extra time board members took to consider breaking tradition.
“If a decision had been made (the night of her request), there may have been nothing else, but now we have other options,” she said.
Family members and a couple of friends accompanied Wilson to last week’s meeting. Her mother, Sarah, a teacher at Ridgeview School, said tradition is a good thing, but sometimes there is a higher calling. “It’s a small step in the right direction,” she said.
Matthew Miller, pastor of Vineyard of Yahweh in Johnson City, was also at the meeting.
“I thought it was a good option. It would have been nice to be with other class members, but this is a good compromise,” he said.