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George Neely: Lodi residents invited to weigh in on graduations

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Posted: Saturday, June 28, 2014 12:00 am

Sometimes, what seems like a good idea doesn’t turn out as good as it sounded.

Take, for instance, holding Lodi graduations at University of the Pacific’s Spanos Center in Stockton. Apparently, we didn’t handle that situation very well this past year.

As a matter of fact, I think I’ve heard from just about everyone on this subject. Those comments ranged from respectful requests to move it back to the Grape Bowl, to assertions that there is some type of conspiracy driving the whole move.

Let’s set the record straight: The only reason the decision was made to move graduations to the Spanos Center was to give our students the best graduation experience possible. The decision was not made by the Lodi Unified School District board, but nonetheless, we own it and are responsible for it.

I can’t speak for the rest of the board, but in my opinion, we missed the target on this one. We should have floated the idea locally before the decision was made to move the graduations.

In 2013, the graduations were held at Pacific and there was nothing but praise for the facility. That year, we held three graduations at the Spanos Center — McNair, Lodi, and Tokay high schools. Bear Creek held its graduation on its own football field. I attended all three graduations at Pacific, and I too thought it was a great facility.

In 2013, though, the situation was different. That year, the Grape Bowl was closed for renovations, and we were forced to find a different venue. So why did we go back to Pacific in 2014?

Well, to be quite frank, it’s a better facility to host a graduation. Having now attended the four Lodi Unified graduations held in the Grape Bowl in 2011 and 2012, and the seven graduations at Spanos in the last two years, I can attest to that.

Why is it better? The Spanos Center is a large indoor facility that is completely protected from the elements. There are no worries about wind or rain like at the Grape Bowl, and to top it off, it has great air conditioning. The facility has more usable seats than the Grape Bowl, and those seats are not only more comfortable, they are arranged in a 180-degree span around the graduates. It has a spectacular sound system, and the event can be televised on a big screen so that the audience can see the details.

Like I said, it’s a better facility to host a graduation. But maybe it’s not a better location to host the graduations for Lodi and Tokay high schools. No matter how nice a facility the Spanos Center is, it’s not in Lodi, and it doesn’t have the tradition with our schools that the Grape Bowl does.

I went to my first Lodi High graduation in the Grape Bowl in 1961 when my brother graduated. I went again in 1970 for my own graduation. The parents and even grandparents of many our students have graduated there as well. I always love the part of the graduation where Bob Lofsted, Lodi High principal, asks for all previous Lodi High graduates to stand. The stands are full of former Lodi grads! Lodi Unified has long tradition at the Grape Bowl.

Yes, there are some issues with having our graduations there. A few years ago, I struggled handing out diplomas as the wind was blowing them off the table, but we made it work. There is also a problem with the amount of useable seating for graduation. We need to sit down with the city to see what we can do about that. There are other issues as well, but we should be able to work on those.

At the last board of education meeting, I asked Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer to put the graduation issue on the agenda for our next meeting on July 22. We will be discussing the issues related to where the graduation should be held. If you feel strongly about the situation, please come out and let us know.

There will undoubtedly be a number of reasons we should continue to use the Spanos Center, but like I said at our last meeting, sometimes tradition trumps air conditioning.

George Neely is a member of the Lodi Unified School District board of trustees.

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