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.
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?