MEREDITH — After the classes of 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 at Inter-Lakes High School failed to move their graduation venue from Prescott Park, this year's graduating seniors succeeded when the School Board last voted to hold the ceremony on the artificial turf field at the school.
"This was bigger than getting graduation on the turf field," said Erik Boquist, who, with Julia Eifert shares the class presidency. He explained that students and parents had pressed the administration for years, only to meet resistance.
"When we got no cooperation from the administration, we became the first class to take it to the School Board," he said.
"I hope this encourages other classes to fight for what they believe in," echoed Thomas Ainsworth, the class vice president.
Eifert and Boquist, who share the class presidency, reminded the board that 377 students, parents and residents, some 50 of whom added written comments, had petitioned to change the venue from Prescott Park. Then they countered the arguments against the change offered by the school administration.
Noting that the administration warned of the excessive heat generated by the synthetic turf, Eifert pointed out that students, including the helmeted and padded football team, regularly practice and play on the field in the heat of summer days, while the ceremony would be held on a June morning. She also suggested pitching a shade tent, with a water station, and indicated that the class might donate the tent for classes to follow.
Boquist addressed concerns that an outdoor ceremony would require scheduling a rain date that would complicate renting a sound system, by proposing that the school purchase a sound system that could be used again and again for a variety of occasions rather than incur repeated rental costs.
Randy Eifert, who Boquist would call "the man," sought to assure the board that seating for 1,200 on the field would not pose an unmanageable risk. The weight, he said, would be dispersed and high heels, which could puncture the turf, could easily be prohibited. He referred to the manual for the field that specifically indicated it was an appropriate setting for "graduation ceremonies."
"It's an athletic field, not an event field," said Chris Wald, the facilities director, who warned that the weight of the audience would exceed the recommended would exceed the recommended pounds per square inch, or PSI. Mark Billings of the board expressed similar concerns, explaining that shortening the life of the field would accelerate its replacement at a significant cost.
"Why can schools and colleges all over the country hold graduation ceremonies on artificial turf, but not us?" Julia Eifert asked.
Superintendent Mary Ellen Ormond recommended they hold the ceremony on Friday, June 10, at 4 p.m., on the turf field with a rain date of Saturday, June 11, at 9 a.m., with the proviso that if rain was falling at 6 a.m. the ceremony would move to the auditorium.
"I think we should try it," said Merrill. Susan Palmer-Ansorg said that "It's their graduation and they've made their case," and added she thought the board should "empower" young people who have advocated so responsibly.
But the board, with one member absent, divided evenly with Chairman Howard Cunningham, Craig Baker and Billings voting against and Merrill, Palmer-Ansorg and Duncan Porter-Zuckerman in favor. In part the motion failed because of the date, not the venue, as Baker expressed concern that Friday is a difficult day to travel for family members coming from a distance.
When a second motion to hold the ceremony on the turf on Saturday also failed by a three-to-three vote, Ormond recommended returning the event to Prescott Park, but no board member would offer a motion. With that, Billings revived the original motion, which carried with only Cunninham appearing to dissent.
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