Montclair High School Graduation: To Stay, Or Not To Stay… At The Amphitheater (POLL)

Montclair High School graduated the Class of 2017 on Thursday, June 22 at the school’s 150th commencement. If you watch this video, you can see the beautiful ceremony and the cheering crowds. Starting at around the 34 minute mark of the video, the camera pans the audience for two minutes and you can see crowds of families standing all along the amphitheater, because no seats were available. Then the camera pans over to the fence along the amphitheater where you can see a group of parents and family members standing on the other side of the fence, who weren’t allowed into the amphitheater.

Nancy Witter was one of the many disappointed parents left standing outside the ceremony looking in and estimates she was one of at least 100 family members not admitted into the ceremony. “Our older son graduated in 2015 and the ceremony was in the auditorium due to rain,” Witter tells Baristanet. “That was also chaotic. No (or inadequate) air conditioning, overcrowded, standing room only. Only two tickets each family but clearly not enforced.”

The problem with overcrowding isn’t new. Gail Prusslin recalls the issue coming up back in 2007-2008, with parents concerned about lack of room in the amphitheater as well as concerns around safety and comfort for those attending who may be in wheelchairs, have mobility issues, etc. “Personally, I love the look and feel of the amphitheater, but it was/is just not practical for a graduation class of our size,” says Prusslin.

At that time, a group of parents met and researched some options, including the football field and other nearby venues at Montclair State. “Our consensus was that the football field would be the best way to accommodate the families and still feel connected to the High School. We thought the graduates could meet at the amphitheater with their parents, cross the bridge, and “parade” to the field (with the band accompanying them, of course),” says Prusslin. There were concerns about the heels of shoes potentially damaging the field, so the group looked into renting a surface that would protect the field. However, the plan, presented to then Principal Mel Katz and Superintendent Frank Alvarez never got past the initial idea, due to resistance Prusslin believes was related to cost, logistics and a change in tradition.

That tradition includes walking over bridges at the amphitheater, a symbolic right of passage that’s unique to Montclair High School.

Montclair High commencement #2k17

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According to this document (referenced below), the amphitheater at max can hold 1500 people. Members of the class of 2017 (estimated 509 graduates) were given three tickets per family for an outside ceremony, but there were hundreds inside and outside the amphitheater who were left standing.

What do you think? Has Montclair outgrown the amphitheater or is there a way to preserve the tradition?

Memorial Day, 1919. Photo: Montclair Library Archives.
Elementary music concert, 1948. Photo: Montclair Library Archives.
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  1. It is lovely venue and I would love to see my kids graduate there in ’18 and ’19 BUT ONLY if there is a way to guarantee that parents get priority. Tradition is nice but not for those shut out of seeing their children graduate. If the venue cannot accommodate graduates and their parents then it time for a new tradition. There have many been good ideas floating about on line recently. Hopefully we can work together as a community to ensure that all parents get to see their kids graduate next June. I propose color coded tix for parents (2), ushers who take you to your seat and say this row holds 18 so you 16 need to move over to make room, and absolutely no seat saving.

  2. My daughter graduated in 2015 and even though it rained and was moved to the hot auditorium, her father (also an MHS grad) and I (a 1984 MHS grad) dealt with it and it was still a special occasion. Her aunt (an MHS grad) and her cousin (another MHS grad) had no problem waiting outside during the ceremony, they understood the limitations regarding tickets, and we all met up afterwards for photo ops. My graduating class was around 500 also. This year the weather was perfect. I voted to keep it in the amphitheater.

  3. Any one who would even remotely consider moving this ceremony out of the classic Amphitheater must be a non MHS grad. Graduating in this space is one of the most memorable and treasured experiences of my life. It was also the same for my Grandmother, Mother, Aunt, Uncles and many cousins. This tradition must remain.

  4. It’s not a treasured experience for those who get shut out because of over-crowding. Things change and we need to support an environment where every student and family can enjoy this once in a lifetime event. Move it to the stadium and be done with it.

  5. I think divorcing parents, who have listed their homes ‘For Sale’, of graduating Seniors not going to college and where forecasted inclement weather forces a change in venue should get ticket & seating preferences.

  6. Just as the thought was to have parents escort their student onto the field (if moved there), the same can be done across the bridge at the amphitheater, with the first few seat rows reserved for those parents. All others (and there are always plenty of the others) will sit in the remaining seats. If, in fact, there is a larger than usual graduating class (a la ’08) then there is the option to move to a larger venue. But the default should remain amphitheater.

  7. mtc4life and justbob both have valid points. The amphitheater is a wonderful, historic location for the graduation, but it ceases to be wonderful if you have to watch your child graduate from behind a fence.

    The District has to find a way to make it work. Maybe it’s a simple as cutting the tickets to 2 per student, strictly enforced, with those without tickets going to the Auditorium to see it on a screen.

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