Westfield holding rescheduled graduation ceremony Saturday

Submitted image
Published:
Updated:

WESTFIELD, Ind. (WTHR) - Westfield High School will hold its graduation ceremony Saturday morning after Thursday night's outdoor ceremony ended shortly after it started due to severe weather.

But many say it was not canceled soon enough - a charge school officials say isn't fair given the changing weather conditions.

Jay Dyer was one of the thousands of people who filled the football grandstands for the ceremony. He flew in from Atlanta to see his grandson graduate. Dyer feels school officials made a bad call putting thousands of people at risk.

"I couldn't believe what I was seeing," he said.

One of the videos a parent shared with Eyewitness News showed more than 500 Westfield seniors walking onto the football field in pouring rain. "Pomp and Circumstance" played over the speakers as relatives and friends of the graduates huddled under umbrellas, many sopping wet.

Dyer was tracking the storm on live radar. The National Weather Service had issued a severe thunderstorm warning for part of Hamilton County.

"It's lightning around us and it was coming the storm was coming," he said. "I felt there were some safety issues really violated, meaning people were in danger, because you never know with lighting or how it's going to act."

Dyer said the students stood on the field for 10-15 minutes before they were sent back into the high school, with the ceremony soon called off.

"They could have really pinpointed this thing or said we need to reschedule for another time, instead of putting everyone in jeopardy," he said.

Eyewitness News heard the same from several others who attended. One mother, who didn't want to be identified said, "There's no reason to put people in jeopardy... What hurt me more than anything was seeing an older lady in a wheelchair. A guy was pushing her in the pouring rain."

Many took to social media. One father tweeted, "Can you believe Westfield High school has the entire community standing in this?"

Eyewitness News reached out to the school district, asking for an on-camera interview. Instead we received a prepared statement from the superintendent and a lengthy email from the principal sent to parents Friday afternoon.

In that email Principal Stacey McGuire said had they had contingency plans and did their best to prepare.

McGuire said they believed "there was a window of opportunity around 6:30 to begin the ceremony, unfortunately the weather and information changed within minutes, so we had to adjust."

She went on to say, "Those who believe we were unaware, unprepared or unplanned, that simply isn't true."

Dyer isn't so sure, saying they "should have really been a little proactive in a little quicker fashion."

Graduation was rescheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday.

If you're wondering why it's not held indoors or at an off-site location, McGuire said it comes down to several things, including cost. You can read her full statement here:

Parents and Class of 2019-

As we look to Commencement 2019, ”Take Two”, we would like to provide some clarity and information regarding last night and our plans for Saturday. As I am sure you are aware, because of the unfortunate, severe weather we experienced last evening, the WHS graduation ceremony has been moved to the scheduled rain date - Saturday morning at 10am. Seniors report at 8:30am to the gym. Gates will open at 8:30am as well. We apologize for the inconvenience that this weather has caused and most importantly, we appreciate your flexibility. Our graduates were simply awesome last night and we look forward to celebrating them tomorrow.

We will be watching weather all morning to determine if we need to begin the processional early to have a firm 10:00 a.m. start time. If we need to delay the start due to severe weather, we will communicate those modifications. Just like any outdoor event, we will not make those decisions until much closer to the time when we have a much better idea of what the actual weather is shaping up to be. As we did Thursday evening, we will have administrators in the press box monitoring multiple computers with weather radars and lightning indicators and will be communicating with the administrative team members on stage before and during the ceremony. Our administrative team has a comprehensive safety and evacuation plan for events at the stadium and if severe weather arrives, we will communicate instructions on how to proceed. If adults choose not to follow those directions, then they have that choice; however, we will evacuate our students and staff again if necessary. We have hired WPD officers for Saturday morning and they will be communicating with our administration as well regarding weather alerts, safety concerns, etc. Rest assured we will be prepared to keep everyone safe should weather change over the course of the morning. We really are so excited to celebrate our 2019 Westfield High School graduates and are optimistic for better weather tomorrow morning.

As we have learned, weather is unpredictable and can change in just seconds. Beginning yesterday morning at 5 a.m, myself and our entire administrative team began following weather predictions, developing contingency plans, and doing our very best to prepare for the commencement ceremony under multiple scenarios. We utilized all the information that was available to us at any given moment and I can assure you, every decision throughout the day and evening was thoroughly thought through and vetted. The logistics of bringing 8000+ people to an event and organizing 559 graduates are very complicated. There were two things out of our control- actually out of everyone's control- the ability to predict the future and the ability to control the weather. With the information we had available, we believed there was a window of opportunity around 6:30 to begin the ceremony. Unfortunately, the weather and information changed within minutes so we had to adjust. For those who believe we were unaware, unprepared, or unplanned, that simply isn’t true. The only thing we wanted and have worked tirelessly for our graduates and their families was a wonderful, memorable ceremony that honored their completion of high school. We did our best. For those that believe our best wasn’t good enough- then my sincerest apologies.

There are many “Why didn’t they” scenarios being discussed right now. I would like to address a couple of them.

Why didn’t we complete the ceremony between 8pm and 9:30pm last night when a weather window opened up?

Although it was our intention and hope to try to use this window to complete the ceremony last night- during the delay, parents began entering the gym and pulling their students to taking them home. By 7:50pm, we were missing a portion of the senior class and did not feel that we could proceed without them.

Why wasn’t there an indoor plan like there has been in years past?

Because of the size of our graduating class, if we moved the ceremony indoors, graduates would only be allowed to invite three guests. The size of the class would take up most of the gym floor leaving very little space remaining for handicapped seating. For years, when our ceremonies were indoors and graduates were limited to 6 -8 guests, we received feedback indicating this was unacceptable and unfair that graduates had to limit or choose who to invite. In reviewing the information 2 years ago, we believed 3 guests per graduate was just too few so made the decision to include a rain date as opposed to distributing 3 tickets as a backup plan. Our goal is to do everything possible to hold our graduation ceremony outside at the WHS stadium so that we don’t have to limit the number of family and friends who want to attend and support our graduates.

Why don’t we use an off-site facility like the fair grounds or Lucus Oil stadium?

We have explored these options each year for the past 10 years. In addition to being extremely expensive options, the inconvenience of traveling to the fairgrounds or downtown, as well as paying for parking and navigating an unfamiliar site have been concerns expressed by parents and graduates. In addition, there are very limited dates that we can hold commencement that doesn’t conflict w IHSAA competitions and events. These are the same dates for every school in the state. In addition, the venues have their own events further limiting available dates. When reviewing availability, WHS would be holding commencement in mid or late June. After discussing this option, parents and graduates expressed concern about these later dates conflicting with college orientations, vacation plans, etc. We felt that having commencement closer to the end of the school year was in the best interest of our graduates.

Why don’t we use Grand Park as an indoor venue?

We have explored this option over the last 3 years. Grand park does not have stadium or tiered seating. Therefore, we would need to rent 8000+ chairs and they would be placed in rows on a flat surface. For viewing the ceremony, we did not feel this was a viable solution.

What I have learned is every graduate and family will prioritize what is important to their family and therefore, everyone values something different. There is no solution that will please everyone. Our job is to sort through all the information and try to identify a solution that is better for the majority of the class. In doing so, individuals may not agree; but we need to step back and understand this is what was determined best for the group. There is no perfect solution or scenario. If there was, rest assured, we would be doing it. We are always open to considering other options for our commencement ceremony and will continue to pursue what we believe to be in the best interest of serving our graduates’ needs.

On a personal note, I want to tell you that attacks and disrespectful posts and comments made by some adults are not only very disappointing, but also hurtful. I would like to think we were setting a better example for our children. The staff, teachers, counselors, administration and also the principal are hard-working, caring, well-intentioned people who choose to serve the students of WHS each and every day. We have committed our lives to ensuring that your students have an exceptional high school experience and receive an excellent education. We are not perfect, but we work hard- ALWAYS with what is best for our students at the forefront of everything we do and every decision we make- and I would ask for a little grace for myself and my staff.

I would also encourage all of us to step back and try to gain some perspective. Yes- It rained last night. Yes-Thousands of people were wet and uncomfortable. And Yes- thousands of people are inconvenienced by the unfortunate, severe weather. My hope is that by tomorrow morning, we can let a lot of our anger and frustration go so we can be fully present in the moment and enjoy the very special reason we are coming together- to celebrate the Class of 2019. The class that was offered over 24.6 million dollars in scholarships. The class that has over 10% earning a GPA of 4.2 or higher. The class that has earned more college credits and industry certifications than any other class in WHS history. The class that has won conference and state championships, dedicated thousands of hours to service and is full of artistic and musical talent. The class that deserves to have a wonderful, memorable, special ceremony to honor their accomplishments. I can assure you the staff and administration will work tirelessly to ensure a special ceremony to be enjoyed by the graduates, their families, and their friends.

We look forward to seeing you tomorrow morning.

Stacy McGuire

Filed under: