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Jun 24, 2023


I can hear the names echoing through my neighborhood. I live about a mile north

I can hear the names echoing through my neighborhood. I live about a mile north of War Memorial Stadium and listened to the Little Rock School District high school graduation ceremonies reverberate.

A few blocks west, we held the Catholic High graduation ceremony on May 19. Like all high school administrators who host outdoor events, I watch the weather forecast, hoping and praying for beautiful weather. Significant chances of rain hampered the majority of the last 10 years.

Before that, we used to pack our old-school gymnasium that had no air conditioning. It seemed to be a rite of passage to start school in that sweltering gym and to end it the same way.

We'd line rows and rows of folding chairs to augment our bleachers, with the graduates standing on risers under hot lights. Some years it was simply unbearable with late-May temperature and humidity each surpassing 90. I'd watch the weather back then, too, so I'd know whether to warn grandparents to stay home.

Ingenious folks would show up with homemade air conditioning: a frozen plastic water bottle and a handheld battery-powered fan to move air over it. It worked. Mostly.

Then, in 2013, we air-conditioned the place. No big deal until folks finally believed we had done such a thing and showed up en masse for the 2014 ceremony.

We weren't prepared for the crush of humanity that arrived--or the fire marshal who made a visit. We cut the ceremony a little short and I endured my wife's teasing smiles as our oldest child walked across that stage.

She's never let me hear the end of it.

That's when we moved it outside. That's when we dealt with different weather threats. Now, I call Catholic High alumnus Todd Yakoubian, the meteorologist for KATV, and beg him to give us good news. He chuckles, then torments us with rain chances that have no clear indication if we should have it outside or move to the gym with a limited crowd.

This year, the entire week of graduation was beautiful and there was no chance of rain except for one three-hour stretch. Of course, that three-hour stretch was the exact time of the Catholic High ceremony.

At the last possible moment, we moved inside. I was actually thankful that in the middle of the ceremony my phone buzzed letting me know lightning was nearby.

(DROP CAP) The Little Rock School District had a beautiful week of graduations. One of my favorite newspaper photographs was Thomas Metthe's May 25 photo of Little Rock Southwest High's Jakaylia Bridges as she walked off the field, diploma held aloft like a trophy.

That image caught the jubilation and promise of what graduation should be.

I found myself sitting under a slowly moving porch fan, listening to the graduates' names called from War Memorial. There they were, immortalized for an instant, the sound of names marking the end of high school careers and the beginning of life's new seasons.

The weather was beautiful.

Steve Straessle is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at [email protected] Find him on Twitter @steve_straessle. "Oh, Little Rock" appears every other Monday.

Print Headline: On graduation

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