Graduations again in the pandemic

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net
The Examiner

For the second straight year, many area school districts will not have high school graduation ceremonies at their traditional venues due to the pandemic.

The Blue Springs School District announced early this year it again plans to have graduations outdoors at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, on May 22, a Saturday. Blue Springs High School is set for 9 a.m. and Blue Springs South at 11 a.m. Attendance will again be limited, with masks required. Each graduate will receive an allotment of tickets. 

Blue Springs South is one of the handful of high schools that will again have its graduation ceremony at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas. Many schools used the open-air stadium for graduation in July 2020, as it allowed for social distancing with some attendance, after the pandemic shuttered plans for regular sites.

The Fort Osage School District also will return to Children’s Mercy Park for graduation, at 7 p.m. May 21. Each senior will be allowed 10 tickets. 

That weekend looks to be a busy one at the home of the Sporting KC soccer team, as the three Lee’s Summit School District high schools again plan to have graduations there the afternoon of May 22.

The Independence School District has set May 29, also a Saturday, for its commencement ceremonies, using the stadiums at Truman and William Chrisman high schools – Van Horn at 9 a.m. at Chrisman, Truman at 10:30 a.m. and Chrisman at noon. The district says information about tickets and weather contingency plans will be released later.

The Grain Valley School District recently secured a Wednesday, May 26 graduation day at Independence’s Cable Dahmer Arena, which recently hosted the Missouri state high school wrestling tournament with limited attendance. Last summer, the district used the gymnasium at University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg for graduation, with limited attendance but still more than what would have been allowed in Jackson County at the time. District officials say switching to Cable Dahmer Arena will allow for more guest tickets for graduates’ families, six per graduate. Under normal circumstances, the arena has a 5,800 capacity for sporting events.

St. Michael the Archangel High School will also have graduation at 4 p.m., Sunday, May 9  at Cable Dahmer Arena. Last year it had graduation at St. John Francis Regis Catholic Church, next to the former Archbishop O’Hara High School in southeast Kansas City.

Until the pandemic, Blue Springs and Blue Springs South high schools had for many years conducted graduation ceremonies at Municipal Auditorium in downtown Kansas City on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend. The venue allowed for plenty of family seating in the stands, with graduating classes of 450-plus seated on the gymnasium floor. 

The Independence and Lee’s Summit school districts, along with Fort Osage and Grain Valley, had for years used the Community of Christ Auditorium in Independence. The 5,800-seat venue allowed room for family and friends of all graduates, even with graduation classes sometimes approaching 400 to 500, and ISD would conduct all three high school graduations on a Saturday. However, the Auditorium has been closed to the public throughout the pandemic.

Besides Grain Valley, Children’s Mercy Park quickly became the venue of choice last July for many area schools last year as the pandemic forced districts to scramble and first change graduation dates and then venues, given continued restrictions for indoor events. The open-air venue, which in normal circumstances seats 18,000 for soccer games, could seat about 2,500 spread out in the stands, with the graduates spread out on seats on the playing surface, and stadium personnel were able to make sudden plans and handle logistics for several commencements.

For seniors at the Blue Springs School District’s alternative Valley View High School, graduation is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. May 18 at Blue Springs High School’s Peve Stadium. Attendance will not be limited, but masks and social distancing will be required. If inclement weather is forecast, the ceremony will be inside and attendance will be limited.