Walters said in an email Tuesday the class of 2019 will start a new tradition when it graduates in May in Murfreesboro.
“We have decided to move the class of 2019 commencement ceremony to [Middle Tennessee State University’s] Murphy Center. The date and time are Monday, May 20 at 7 p.m.,” said Walters. “This decision comes with much thought, consideration and debate. We have continued to host the graduation ceremony on our own campus for the last six years. Because the plans were to have the ceremony on our football field, inclement weather was always a concern. On years where the weather has forced the ceremony indoors, we have to move into our gymnasium. This limits the number of guests per graduate to four people. That possibility is a frustrating fear for our families every year.”
Walters said since Lebanon High School moved to its new campus on Blue Devil Boulevard in 2012, enrollment grew by more than 400 students, and the class of 2019 is the largest in school history with more than 500 students. He said the facility would struggle to accommodate the large number of guests.
“In addition to considering these factors, we also polled our senior class, asking them what their preference was in having graduation on or off campus,” Walters said. “I was surprised to find out that the vote was nearly 50-50, with fewer than 15 votes making the difference. After seeing that the poll was not overwhelmingly one-sided, we knew that we had to seriously evaluate our options and the pros and cons of each.
“We will continue to provide a sophisticated graduation experience for our graduates and one that everyone can enjoy. Graduating from high school is a momentous occasion, and we want to be able to offer an experience that all our graduates’ guests can enjoy. While I understand not all families will agree or appreciate this decision, I ask that you continue to support us in the experience we offer our students.”
According to MTSU’s website, the Murphy Center holds about 11,000 people and rents for $3,500 per day. Also, chair rental is $1 per chair and additional costs are added when a portable sound system, staging and university police are needed.
The Lebanon High School class of 2017 had its graduation ceremony on campus after it was initially set to be the first class to graduate at the Wilson County Expo Center. Walters announced the move in October 2016 after school officials at the time met with stakeholder groups, which included students, parents and faculty. School officials added there are limitations of the “previously planned location” that helped them make their decision to switch back to Lebanon High School for the ceremony.
Wilson County Schools Director Donna Wright said the power to choose a graduation venue rested with each individual school.
Wilson Central High School principal Travis Mayfield has said facilities are hard to find for county high school graduations since the Murphy Center holds a majority, if not all, of Rutherford County high school graduations.
The outside venue at Danny Watkins Stadium has proven to be hit or miss with inclement weather in past years. Rain forced the ceremonies indoors, much to the dismay of parents and other family members and guests at the time, in 2013 and 2015.
Lebanon High School will join Wilson Central and Mt. Juliet High School, which will also hold graduation ceremonies at the Murphy Center and have done so for the past several years. Watertown High School’s graduation, which is scheduled to be at the school, will be the lone high school to hold its ceremony in Wilson County.