Smithfield students, parents upset over change to smaller graduation venue

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SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) – The season for pomp and circumstance is still months away, but a big change for Smithfield High School seniors is causing some graduation gripes. 

The ceremony will be in a new location this year, and some are not happy about it.  

10 On Your Side talked to school officials and parents about moving to a much smaller venue.  

The graduation ceremony is usually held at the high school’s football stadium, but this year it’ll be held inside the school’s gym. 

An online petition is going around to fight the change but school officials say there’s no perfect solution for this issue. 

For Angelina Balentine, graduation at Smithfield High School is a family tradition.  

“We have had six Balentines graduate from this high school. Each of them have graduated on the football field,” she said. 

Balentine’s son, Zackary, is putting on his cap and gown in June, but he’ll be getting his diploma in the school’s gym.  

The change has students’ tassels in a tousle.  

“I don’t want to sit in the gymnasium for my graduation. I’d rather be on the football field,” Zackary said.   

The Isle of Wight County Schools spokeswoman said the change was made after getting positive feedback from the 2019 commencement. That ceremony was moved to the gym due to weather.  

10 On Your Side is told having the ceremony indoors got rid of concerns about the heat and humidity and it gave graduates and guests a more comfortable experience.    

However, parents like Shelli Wolford disagree. She preferred not to show her face, but Wolford said her experience during her daughter’s graduation last year wasn’t a good one.  

“It’s not what I think the kids work for 12 years to just go through that,” she said. 

The district said there are 283 seniors. The current plan is to give all seniors four tickets for the gym, two for the auditorium and two for the cafeteria where the ceremony will be streamed live.   

An online petition has over a thousand signatures and counting.  

Senior Devin Strother started the petition and sent a statement saying: “Having to pick and choose which family members will see one of the most important milestones of your life is grossly unfair.” 

The district said it has looked into moving graduation to an off-site venue however there wasn’t an overwhelming majority of students who wanted it moved. 


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