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School leaders consider breaking tradition for graduation date

Ciera Wilson, a senior at Daniel Boone High School, doesn’t spend her Friday nights at football games or shopping with friends.
As a Messianic Jew, Wilson is required to observe Sabbath from Friday nights to sundown on Saturdays.
“I go to church on a Saturday morning instead of a Sunday morning,” Wilson said.
The teenager came before members of the Board of Education on Jan. 3, asking them to break tradition and change the time of graduation for the two county high schools this year.
The last day of school is slated for Friday, May 24. Historically, the board would choose Saturday, May 25, as graduation day, according to Director of Schools Ron Dykes.
That, however, would leave Wilson and at least four other Boone seniors unable to attend their high school graduation due to their religious practices.
“I am in the top 10 of my class. This is very important. I want to have this opportunity,” Wilson said. “I am also asking for the next generation.”
Wilson pointed to her brother, an eighth-grader, who was also in attendance at the meeting. She told board members this was their opportunity to “embrace different cultures” and “teach diversity.”
“Even though we are a minority in East Tennessee, we are still there,” she said. “I would not stand here and ask for it to be on a Sunday morning. I’m asking to find a compromise so that we can all be there.”
Wilson suggested holding the graduation ceremony at 6 p.m. on May 25, rather than in the morning.
It’s an unlikely choice since May 25 is the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
“I had a lot of complaints last year about us having it on Memorial Day weekend,” Keith Ervin, board member, said.
Dykes discouraged the board from selecting the previous Saturday to serve as graduation day.
“If you want to remain with a Saturday, I would recommend the 25th,” he said. “There is some instructional time lost with that choice (of May 18) because you have an entire week left of school.”
Wilson’s mother, Sarah Wilson, a teacher at Ridgeview School in Gray, suggested holding it on a weekday.
“In most big cities, they do it on a Thursday,” she said. “I have a daughter who is brilliant. I’d like the opportunity to watch her graduate.”
While board member and retired teacher Mary Lo Silvers recognized the concern, she was hesitant to agree to a change of date.
“I sympathize and understand the young lady’s concerns, but I remember last year that we had a lady who was very, very upset with this date and we didn’t change it,” Silvers said. “If we start changing it for one person or one group, are we opening ourselves up to more changing? Or do we stick with the tradition of doing it the day after school is out?”
Board Member Chad Williams asked for more time to consider the request.
“By Miss Wilson’s own testimony, she’s missed a lot over her school career because of when the activities have fallen,” he said. “I’d like a little more time for consideration out of respect to her. I would like to discuss it with administration at the high schools.”
The group will make a decision on a graduation date at a called Board of Education meeting on Monday, Jan. 14, at 5 p.m.