Arena allows more graduation guests

AIKEN --- Tickets are still needed for admission, but Aiken County administrators hope families don't miss out on seeing their graduates get a diploma this year.

Ceremonies for five of the district's seven high schools were moved to the University of South Carolina Aiken Convocation Center this year to accommodate growing class sizes and demands for tickets.

The convocation center seats 3,500, compared to 1,500 or less at high school gyms.

"Love it!" said Daryl Glover, the parent of a junior marshal. "I didn't have to sit on the bleachers; the temperature was comfortable; and the ceremony was shorter since they have another graduation coming in right after this."

North Augusta High School Principal Kyle Smith said his sons couldn't get a prime spot last year when his daughter graduated from the school. Each graduate had only six tickets for admission to the gym. Each graduate received 10 tickets this year.

"They sat in the auditorium overflow just like everyone else," he said.

After many were turned away from Area 1 graduations last year, parents and extended family of 2008 graduates asked the school board to look into other options.

The convocation center rental for two days would cost more than $12,000, according to Deputy Superintendent David Caver.

The district had only $5,000 for the ceremony. With millions in budget cuts this year, the district's pool of money shrank.

In a fundraising blitz, 18 businesses sponsored the graduations and paid for facility costs, which were more than $10,000.

After the last graduation today, the school board will have to decide whether moving graduation is worth the time in planning and fundraising.

Mr. Caver said the issue would be discussed before school begins in August.

Board Chairwoman Christine Harkins said money was appropriated in the budget to rent the building next year.

"I appreciate that more family was able to come this year," Dr. Harkins said.

Mr. Smith, who is principal of the second-largest high school in the district, said that it could give out 20 tickets per graduate and there would never be enough for everyone, but graduates are good about trying to resolve the issue themselves.

"You'll see them swapping out tickets if someone needs more," he said. "People's better nature comes out during events like this."

Aiken County will conclude commencement ceremonies today with four graduations.

Reach Julia Sellers at (706) 823-3424 or julia.sellers@augustachronicle.com.

GRADUATION LOCATIONS

LOCATIONCAPACITY
Convocation Center3,500
Aiken High 1,400
South Aiken 1,200
Ridge Spring-Monetta 570
Wagener-Salley 640
Silver Bluff 1,000
Midland Valley 1,200
North Augusta 1,500

Sources: Aiken County schools