Gowanda won’t relocate graduation ceremonies

A crowd of students and parents voiced their concerns on keeping graduation ceremonies in Gowanda.

GOWANDA — A proposed change of location for Gowanda Central School’s Class of 2019 was a much-anticipated discussion topic during Wednesday’s board of education meeting.

Earlier this fall, Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson made a suggestion to the Board of Education about moving the graduation location to the new Cattaraugus Community Center at the Seneca Nation of Indians in Irving. However, dozens of students, parents and community members came to the meeting to defend the traditional location of graduation at Gowanda’s Hillis Field.

Prior to the public comment portion of the meeting, Anderson presented a slide-show comparing suggested locations. His presentation included Hillis Field, the gymnasium (where the past two graduations have taken place, due to rain), the auditorium and the CCC. “Hillis Field has been the traditional site for 50-plus years,” Anderson began. “It’s traditional, picturesque, and on a really nice night, it’s a beautiful place for pictures. The big problem is that it’s weather dependent.”

The Seneca Nation of Indians’ CCC was considered for multiple reasons. “It’s not weather-dependent; it doesn’t matter how hot, how cold, how rainy or how windy it is,” Anderson said. “The arena holds around 1,200 people, but I suspect we can get more in there.” He added that there is plenty of accessible parking, padded seating with backs, air-conditioning and more seating for elderly or disabled guests.

“One drawback is that there is Plexiglass,” Anderson said. “It is an arena, but there is a possibility that the Plexiglass could be removed.”

Senior Dustin Stark was the first student to address the board. He pointed out the recent renovations made to the auditorium and hoped it would be considered in the event of rain, rather than move the graduation to a site off campus. “I don’t see any reason to move it, especially to move it so far off campus,” Stark said. “For me, that’s almost a half hour drive.”

Board member Janet Vogtli requested that the board respond to students’ questions after they were asked, instead of waiting until everyone had spoken. “I think we should respond to each one, otherwise it’s going to get lost what their questions were,” she stated.

Another student, Grace Pollock, addressed the board and said that the class is open to change. However, after 14 years at the district, students should graduate at the school. “The priority shouldn’t be the comfort of audience members, but it should be about us — the graduates — and the traditions that we hold dear,” Pollock said, tearfully.

Following public comment from students and parent Minnie Hansen, the decision was made to keep graduation on campus at Hillis Field. The auditorium is being considered as the primary option in the event of rain, with overflow seating in the gymnasium.

The next meeting of the Gowanda Central School Board of Education is Wednesday, Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Seneca Nation of Indians Early Childhood Learning Center, 2016 Henodeyesta Drive, Irving.