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The exchange was fair and civil Tuesday night as the Lodi Unified School District board discussed graduations at the Grape Bowl.

We came away much more informed about the decision to move Lodi and Tokay high school graduations to University of the Pacific’s Spanos Center.

We also came away with this thought: This decision deserves more study.

Tokay and Lodi high principals were articulate in explaining why they decided to make the move to Spanos:

  • When the Grape Bowl was renovated, seating capacity was reduced. That cuts the number of tickets each graduate can provide friends and family, which had already been a source of frustration. Capacity at the Spanos Center is quite adequate.
  • In the open-air Grape Bowl, it can get hot and sweaty. No such worries at the indoor, air-conditioned Spanos Center.
  • The Grape Bowl continues to pose worries over access for people with disabilities. Again, no such concerns at Spanos.
  • Through campus discussions, it became clear that most high school seniors preferred the Spanos location over the Grape Bowl.

Those who spoke on behalf of moving the graduations back to the Grape Bowl were passionate. After all, this is the place where generations of Lodians have graduated from high school, they said.

It makes sense to have the graduations in a hometown, in Lodi, they said, versus the bigger city to the south. It is a shorter, quicker drive than the trip to Stockton and Pacific.

Most of all, it is about tradition, they said.

And for many — and we count ourselves in this corner — tradition counts. A lot.

It is what makes a community a community. It is about identity and continuity.

We were moved by a guest column by Randy Rosa, lawyer, Lodian and self-avowed traditionalist.

Of Grape Bowl graduations, he wrote: “It is chaos and balloons and yells of support and pride. It is an occasional boy or girl who has beaten odds that no one in the stands is aware of. It is old men and women (with a smile) sitting on uncomfortable benches (buy a cushion).

“It is caps and gowns and tears and hugs and kisses as young and old hunt for each other in a sea of red and white or purple and gold.

“It is the last time these parents, these students and these teachers will meet on common ground to celebrate a transition to a new life — and it happens in the most hallowed of our public spaces — the Grape Bowl.”

It should be noted that the majority of those who showed up Tuesday night to speak favored a return to the Grape Bowl. A recent — and admittedly unscientific — online poll showed a clear majority in favor of keeping the ceremonies at the Grape Bowl.

The stadium’s history is rich, and it stirs strong memories and emotions. It was finished in 1940 at a cost of $150,000, a product of the Works Progress Administration. A symbol of hope in a time of hardship.

Bringing the graduations back to the Grape Bowl may seem to be a simple slam-dunk to many. It is not.

There are concerns here, concerns that merit a closer look. The 2-by-2 committee that includes representatives from the council and the school board should jointly examine those concerns in coming weeks.

It became apparent Tuesday night that communications between the city and school district have been incomplete, at the least. The district wasn’t clear that several hundred seats would be lost in the Grape Bowl renovation. The city wasn’t consulted on the decision to move the ceremonies to Stockton.

But that’s behind us.

Looking forward, let’s hope for close and open communications that include all stakeholders.

It may be that the tradition of Grape Bowl graduations needs to end.

But that tradition shouldn’t be cast aside without the deepest, fullest examination first.

— The Lodi News-Sentinel



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