School officials ask friends, families of graduates to be courteous, quiet

With nearly a dozen nieces and nephews living in the Wichita area, Carreen Gibbons has attended her share of graduation ceremonies.

She’s heard air horns blare just a few feet behind her, startling her nearly out of her seat.

She’s heard people talk at full volume during solemn moments or make snarky comments about graduates as they crossed the stage.

She’s seen family entourages of 30 or 40 people stand up and file out of the auditorium as soon as their graduate’s name was called.

“I don’t want to stomp on somebody’s good time,” said Gibbons, 39. “But then again, you also want to be able to hear.”

This week is the big kickoff for graduation season, with dozens of area schools holding ceremonies in gymnasiums, auditoriums, churches and arenas across the Wichita area. Some school districts got an early start with commencement ceremonies over the weekend.

And just like previous years, school officials are imploring: As you watch your graduate receive his high school or college diploma, have some class.

“The key in any graduation ceremony is that each student’s name is read, each student is acknowledged for their accomplishment,” said Cara Ledy, principal at South High School in Wichita.

“And we ask our crowds to be courteous so that everybody can hear their name and have that moment.”

Ledy and most other local principals begin commencement ceremonies by welcoming guests and reminding them that “this is a formal activity and a very significant event in the life of a high school student,” she said.

“Normally you need to lay out the expectations because some people have never been to a graduation,” Ledy said. “I’m pretty clear and explicit, and we rarely have any problems.”

But sometimes people — usually audience members, not graduates — get out of hand, she said.

“Unfortunately, we have had to remove people” who continue to disrupt the ceremony after repeated warnings, Ledy said. “We don’t like to do that, but we do it if we have to.”

Some noise is understandable. Many families bring young children, so baby sounds are common. And although graduation etiquette requires that everyone hold their applause until the end, many schools have abandoned that rule and just ask that people don’t go overboard.

Most principals also have relaxed their rules on cellphones over the years, Ledy said, because so many people use them to shoot pictures or video.

“We ask that they silence their phones, but we don’t mind people having them out,” Ledy said. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with someone else’s enjoyment of the ceremony.”

Molly Lemon, a 2005 graduate of Maize High School, recalled an awkward moment during her commencement when her principal stopped reading names and indirectly criticized the crowd.

“Something to the effect of, ‘I hope my graduating seniors are more mature and more well-behaved than those in the audience,’ ” Lemon said.

Several audience members booed “because everyone was upset and offended,” she said. The principal later apologized to families for the remark.

“I thought it was a little overboard because there was nothing happening that wasn’t expected at a graduation,” said Lemon, 25.

“Everybody always says that speech (about holding applause until the end), but nobody listens to it because parents hear their kid’s name and it’s a natural reaction to cheer. … I don’t think people intentionally try to ruin it for others.”

Gibbons, the Wichita aunt, said that in her experience, most graduation crowds police themselves. Just as when people talk during a movie or music performance, a stern look or comment from a neighbor can remind them to watch their volume or behavior.

“You can totally understand people being excited,” she said. “I think the main thing is to just respect other people so they can hear what’s going on and enjoy the ceremony.”