OFHS graduation date moved

2020 ceremony will happen at beginning of Memorial Day weekend

Warren Bluhm, wbluhm@newmedia-wi.com

The Oconto Falls High School Class of 2020 will be graduating two or three days sooner after a School Board vote on June 10.

The board approved an administration request to change the ceremony, which has been held at 2 p.m. Sunday during Memorial Day weekend for the past few years, to Friday or Thursday night of the same weekend.

High school Principal Jake Beschta brought in a recommendation for Friday night, saying the goal was to maximize participation in the commencement exercises while not interfering as much with the biggest community fundraiser of the year, the four-day Memorial Day Celebration.

“A lot of students and adults really like the Memorial Day concept of graduation weekend, in the sense that families can travel and spend an extended holiday weekend together, but they’re also open to a different day of graduation,” Beschta said.

Changing the ceremony to Friday evening would provide families that same holiday weekend while making it easier for staff to come, Superintendent Dean Hess said.

“When it’s on a Sunday, a lot of people want to get out of town,” Hess said. “We’re very hopeful that if it’s on a Friday night, we can set an expectation and not feel like we’re being unreasonable – they can take off later that evening (or the next day) and be with their families.”

It also would give teachers more of an opportunity to have a special final interaction with the students who have been part of the school for the previous four years, Beschta said.

After polling 16 area school districts, Beschta confirmed that none have graduation on Friday night of Memorial Day weekend, so there would be no conflicts there – the surprising thing, he said, is that 12 of them hold the ceremony on weeknights rather than Saturday or Sunday.

“It would not change graduation week – we have practice Wednesday and Thursday,” Beschta said. “This year, Thursday was an off day for seniors – after graduation practice Thursday morning, they were not back until graduation Sunday at 1 o’clock.”

The high school band and choir also participate in Memorial Day services and the parade Monday, and school officials said the band and choir directors were amenable to the move.

“This actually allows them, if they chose, to travel for a two-day period as families and then be back for Memorial Day parade and cemetery services,” Beschta said.

Board President Ron Leja suggested that administrators check with next year’s parents and students to consider if they’d rather go one step further and hold graduation on Thursday night.

Board Treasurer Ken Harter said he was pleased to see the change would keep it on the same weekend. After seeing the issue on the agenda, he said, he remembered the last time graduation day was changed and taking heat from families who had made plans as much as a year in advance.

Board Vice President Jan Stranz liked the idea “because it’s based on the fact that you’re trying to make things better for the student body, for the staff and the community. If I take heat for that I’m happy to, because it sounds like it would make a difference.”

The board voted to approve moving the ceremony to either Thursday or Friday night, giving administrators the flexibility to survey affected staff and families, pick the date and get the word out without waiting for approval at the next board meeting in July.