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Friday, March 18, 2016

Highlands Graduation Venue Being Discussed

In a city as steeped with tradition as Fort Thomas, any conversation surrounding a change in tradition can be one that is rife with emotion.  That emotional conversation between the traditionalists and those desiring change is ongoing now amongst many Highlands High School senior students and their parents surrounding where graduation should be held in 2016 and the future.
In years past, Highlands High School Seniors have graduated on-site, either outdoors on the football field or in the auditorium (now dubbed the Performing Arts Center).  Speaking from experience, the logistics involved in an outdoor ceremony can be quite complex.

My now husband was scheduled to graduate outdoors but due to weather, the ceremony was moved inside at the last-minute causing a bit of confusion and causing me, his lowly girlfriend at the time, to miss the ceremony entirely whilst others with tickets watched from the auditorium or on a closed-circuit TV in the library. Therefore, in recent years, the ceremony has been held at the Performing Arts Center, so long as construction allowed it.

Due to my class size, mine was held at Thomas More College.

Many students in the Class of 2016 are concerned that the tradition of graduating on-site at Highlands disallows them from having their closest friends and families view the monumental personal moment.

Gina Stegner, one of the organizers of the movement to move the graduation, said she was shocked when she found out graduation was going to be held at the PAC and that only three to four family members could attend.

Right now, a petition is going around requesting that the graduation be moved to The BB&T Arena at Northern Kentucky University to accommodate more guests. Some students, however, have noted that they prefer the tradition of graduating on stage at HHS.

"After a casual Facebook post, I found that several parents felt the same way as I do. There are about 25 parents in that core group who want graduation moved to allow more guests. We also have a group page with more than 150 members," said Stegner.

She said that NKU allows schools to book up to four dates in case of snow days, with a final booking date of mid-March. She said she believes the extra cost is justified and could be offset by sponsors of a small ticket charge.

"My children, who'll graduate in 2017 and 2020, have three parents, six grandparents and four siblings. Their father has a significant other who is important to them. They won't even be able to have there entire immediately family at the ceremony. Asking family to watch it on a TV in another room is an insult," she said.

She says their group has also asked about the football field as an option.

The discussion has gotten animated at times, even causing Madalyn Wiefering, creator of a GroupMe Account so all seniors could share their opinions on the topic in a group chat, to shut down the very account she had created because, as she put it, “I just didn't think, at the time, it was productive, so I deleted it.”

Wiefering went on to say, “I know more students want graduation at NKU because of the ticket amount. Many students with step-parents are unable to bring both step parents because of the ticket limit. But many people disagree because of the value on tradition. Personally I think it should be at NKU because I have three younger sisters who I would love to be there for this extremely important day in my life.”

Brennah Dutcher, senior, agrees with Wiefering. “I just really don't think it's fair that I have to choose what family members can come to watch me graduate.”

Dutcher has divorced parents, both of whom have remarried, and younger siblings so even her immediate family will not all be able to sit in the PAC. Overflow seats will be available on-site for extra guests to watch on closed-circuit TV and take pictures of the graduate after the fact in a designated area.

Angela Stevens, mother of a soon-to-be graduate, was originally in favor of changing the location to accommodate more guests at the event.  However, then she spoke to her daughter and saw how important the tradition of graduating on the Highlands’ stage was to her.  Says Stevens, “I graduated there back in 1990 and my daughter Allie came to me and said (she) would like to walk across the HHS stage just like myself.”

Principal Brian Robinson and the Site-Based Council, which is comprised of parents and teachers, have discussed the location of graduation nearly annually, weighing the pros and cons of both options.  Robinson agrees that a change in venue to The BB&T Arena would allow for far more guests, an obvious benefit.  However, Robinson and the SBC are concerned primarily with the experience of the individual student and believe it to be better when at Highlands.

Says Robinson, “I have been involved in three to four HHS graduations off campus as we renovated the building at Thomas More College and Regents Hall.  While they were satisfactory I, without hesitation, believe that the venue on campus is more dignified and memorable than off campus venues.  Our focus has been on providing a great experience for the students.  While who is in attendance is part of this discussion, we have a significant number of students who voice a strong desire to keep their graduation on campus.”

Robinson lists a number of other benefits associated with holding graduation at Highlands including complete control over the date of graduation and even the ability to move the date when snow days lengthen the planned school year, which has happened three out of the last five years. He also cites that there are no additional cost to the students’ guests for tickets.

Conversely, BB&T Arena is now $5,000 plus $1,200 for A.V. equipment, a cost that would be passed on to attendees. On-site rehearsal allowing for uninterrupted senior breakfast and picnic rather than one that requires bussing and shorter events, and finally, the stage at the PAC can accommodate all graduates, unlike the temporary stage at NKU. which means the entire focus is on the students throughout the ceremony as opposed to only when an individual walks across stage.

While opinions are abound on both sides and the discussion continues on, the 2016 graduation date and location is already set: May 29th at 2:00 pm at the Performing Arts Center at HHS.

However, this fact hasn’t stopped many people from signing the petition or joining the Facebook group focused on 2017 and beyond, including parents of current third-graders concerned with where, in the future, their child will graduate.

Kaitlyn Ketcham, graduating senior, reminds all of those engaged in the debate that this is really about the memories. “Our school (is where) we made most of the best memories and I love Highlands and to walk across that stage one last time would mean much more to me than walking across NKU’s stage.”


  1. Interesting to bring memories up when the important people in your life are not going to be there. I am not from Ft Thomas nor do I have a child there but I did graduate off campus. It was important to me that my parents, 4 siblings, and grandfather attended to support me. The graduation ceremony is about celebrating your accomplishments with the people who are most important to you. Have an awards ceremony to walk across the stage. Let family and loved ones attend the graduation. If you want more memories, show up for the reunions. It sounds like Ft Thomas values the school over family. If is about money, hold two ceremonies. Letters A to M in the morning and N to Z in the afternoon. Everyone can be happy.

  2. NKU allows you to reserve up to 4 days so snow days are not an issue. Celebrating this day together is much more important than an outdated tradition.


  4. The Graduation Ceremony at HHS was a huge disappointment. "the stage at the PAC can accommodate all graduates" At the PAC, no one can see anyone but the front row, and those are always the kids of faculty and staff. They read the names so fast, you can't even get ready to take a photo of your student. The "professional" photographer did a terrible job capturing the moment. The focus on "dignity" ensures that a kid who struggled to achieve this milestone still doesn't get a millisecond in the spotlight because of the lack of capacity to allow all the interested loved ones to attend and the ridiculous ban on applause.