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The Thunderbeat

Graduation ceremony requires planning, practice

Bex Rangel, Reporter

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Time spent with friends, prom night, the attempt at magic–such as shoving nine hours of sleep into three–along with all of the other special nights and wins and losses, lead up to the ultimate event of a high school career: graduation.

The importance of such an occasion means there is just as much effort put into planning the event itself. Principal Kevin Rohlfs explained that preparation begins at least three months prior, especially with the inclusion of other senior nights like Baccalaureate and Honors Night. He especially puts emphasis on correct pronunciation of names.

“Before graduation day, I will have ran through the names out loud probably 15 times,” Rohlfs said. “Just to get them right, try to get a rhythm, get things flowing.”

Rohlfs said it’s the two weeks before graduation when preparation gets serious. He explained that setting up the gym, testing the livestream, doing sound checks with the choir, and practicing names all take place within the days leading up to the ceremony.

“It’s a lot of stuff to get ready for, but it’s kind of like Christmas,” Rohlfs said. “You do all this planning and it’s over in an hour.”

Rohlfs said he enjoys the planning process despite its longevity and that the results are worth it.

“I look each senior in the eye, and the look on their face, that moment is very important to me,” Rohlfs said. “That’s the best part of graduation for me, seeing that eagerness, that joy, because they’ve made it.”

At the same time, seniors prepare the entire year for graduation. Senior senate is in charge of hosting events outside of graduation. Senior senate sponsor Chad Huseth explained that while he was there to help with organizing, seniors are the ones who take charge.

“You try to teach them that there’s a big world ahead of them and responsibilities that are going to come in the future,” Huseth said. “I’m the overseer of senior senate, but they pretty much run it.”

Since it’s a special time, senior senate sets a few hundred dollars for a final dinner at the end of the year, their last time together before the graduation ceremony.

“It’s always very bittersweet,” Huseth said. “I’m excited for them, but at the same time, there’s a finalization to it. They realize that they wanted to get to this point but that’s the first time they get to reflect on the journey. It always hits them about the same time.”

The prep doesn’t stop until the end of the graduation ceremony. Valedictorians aren’t chosen until the school year is over, and they have a limited time to write and practice their final speech. English teacher Amy Smith oversees the writing process and explained that it normally goes smoothly.

“I’m always proud of them,” Smith said. “I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished.”

However, she also mentioned that some students see it as an opportunity to have the final word.

“The student sometimes feel, ‘Well this is my chance,’ which it is,” Smith said. “But it still is a school sponsored activity. Usually there’s one kid a year I have to tone down or have a discussion about tone. I always share my concerns with Mr. Rohlfs and we talk about it and decide, ‘Is this within the kid’s realm of possibility?’ 99 percent of the time, it’s not a big deal, the kid gets it. It is still a privilege, you’ve earned that honor, but you have to handle that responsibly.”

Smith said that it’s a fun way to get involved with graduation.

“Seniors are great to work with as a whole, and these kids are so excited, looking forward to their future,” Smith said. “I love working with the kids who are just trying to pass a class, too.”

Forensics teacher Rebecca Hier helps the valedictorians with the presentation part of the speech. She explained that she also has fun preparing the speeches.

“I’m always very impressed by how much work the valedictorians put into their speeches and how quickly they are able to overcome their fear of speaking in the short amount of time I get to work with them,” Hier said. “I really only get to see them three or four times before graduation, which if you’re talking about someone who has a lot of speech anxiety is not a lot of time to get comfortable.”

She explained that it working with valedictorians was a valuable experience.

“It’s an entirely different kind of speech prep,” Hier said. “Those kids, I’m prepping them to give the last speech of their high school careers, and to have a little fun with it, and to have their parents and grandparents and their aunts and uncles bawl their eyes out because they’re so proud.”

The graduation ceremony itself is filled with small moments, such as a performance with the choir while a slideshow full of memories plays, valedictorian speeches, and getting a rhythm with diplomas. Rohlfs, who’s been known to have a correct estimation of the time, believes this year’s graduation will last an hour and 30 minutes.
“It’s a great day,” Rohlfs said. “It’s a day they’ve all earned. Our role as a school is just a very small part in their celebration, keeping things in order for them.”

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The Student News Site of Bellevue West Senior High School
Graduation ceremony requires planning, practice