Many local high school seniors have one more week of classes before they turn their tassels, but preparation for graduation ceremonies began months ago.
The process starts at the beginning of the school year when counselors give a list of eligible graduating seniors to the head teachers of the senior class.
“It all starts in August, really,” said Carol York, a marketing teacher and one of three senior sponsors for Flowery Branch High School. “Then we help seniors order invitations and caps and gowns in September and check eligibility again and
collect dues later in the year.”
Flowery Branch seniors also have had socials each month and will be able to attend their baccalaureate service today, sponsored and hosted by the school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes group.
“The monthly socials are a treat,” York said. “They really don’t get a lot of senior privileges anymore, and this helps to promote fun and camaraderie.”
As graduation weekend draws near, the schools also have to plan for the setup and breakdown of the stage, prepare slide shows and presentations and print about 3,000 tickets and programs for guests. The Hall County school system pays the rental fee for Free Chapel, and the schools pay for any decorations and flowers used on stage.
“Each school handles its own graduation,” said Cindy Blakley, director of middle and high schools for Hall County. “We try to fit in all the schools before Memorial Day and minimize overlap as much as possible. We know how much time it takes to break down and clean up each ceremony. We’ve worked it to a science.”
All Hall County schools will graduate at Free Chapel on McEver Road. Schools rotate ceremony times each year.
“A few years ago, we numbered the high schools and everyone moves down a time slot each year,” Blakley said. “Some say they don’t like having it Saturday, and this way everyone gets a shot at different times.”
Although all the schools previously graduated at the Georgia Mountains Center, they gradually moved as graduation class sizes and guest numbers increased. Flowery Branch was the first to move, and all the other county schools have followed.
Graduation brings pomp and circumstance with traditional caps and gowns, and most schools pinpoint a week at the end of the school year for seniors.
“We had a senior week with a catered breakfast and a recreation day,” York said. “And soon they get their yearbooks and will be able to sign them first.”
At several Hall County schools, seniors receive commemorative Coca-Cola bottles with the graduation year printed on the side. At Chestatee High School, the student council sponsors a “red envelope” tradition that allows teachers and family members to write congratulatory and inspirational letters to students. Megan Montrois, senior class president, gathered and organized the letters for seniors to pick up during lunch on Friday.
“It started two or three years ago with red envelopes, so the name stuck,” she said. “But we haven’t been able to find red ones since then.”
Although putting the pieces together is time consuming, all the parts fall into place just in time.
“It’s like a wedding,” said Teresa Cross, a senior sponsor and math chairwoman for Flowery Branch. “It’s a lot of work trying to make sure everyone is where they need to be and getting all the names right.”
But before this weekend, where do all those diploma certificates, diploma holders, caps, gowns, tassels, stoles and cords go?
“In the school vault,” graduation coach Stefanie Gibbs said with a laugh. “So even if the building burns down, the diplomas will be OK.”