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Siloam Springs parents tell board they want the ‘special’ back in high school graduation

Parents urge return to school campus by Spencer Bailey | November 24, 2022 at 5:00 a.m.
Siloam Springs High School seniors listen during commencement exercises Sunday in Barnhill Arena on the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville. (Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette File Photo/ANDY SHUPE)

SILOAM SPRINGS -- The debate on where to hold the high school graduation has come before the Siloam Springs School Board again.

Siloam Springs High School's graduation has been regularly held at Barnhill Arena at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. An exception was made in 2021 because to the pandemic, and the ceremony was held at Panther Stadium, the high school football field. Graduation has since returned to Barnhill, a decision that has been met with disappointment by some.

One parent in particular, Tiffany Haynes, is pushing for the ceremony to move back to Siloam Springs.

Haynes is a mother of two students in the district, one of whom is a senior. She spoke at the Nov. 10 board meeting.

"I have spoken with many parents and students who share my sentiment," Haynes said. "I have attended many graduations in Fayetteville for friends and family. They felt rushed, you get in and you get out because the next school has to go. Not much time for pictures. It doesn't feel very special."

Haynes said she thinks holding graduation in Siloam Springs can make it special again.

"I believe it would foster our hometown pride and school spirit. It's something to be celebrated."

Haynes has also started an online petition.

"Seven hours in, and we already had over 100 signatures," she said.

Superintendent Jody Wiggins said district administration and the School Board decided many years ago to move the graduation ceremony to Barnhill Arena to ensure enough seating for everyone who wants to attend and that the date, time and/or location of the ceremony is not affected by weather.

Melinda Haak also spoke to the board.

"Having two back-to-back graduation experiences, one in Siloam Springs in 2021 and the other in Barnhill Arena in 2022, it is definitely less stressful in Siloam. You actually get to enjoy the day."

Stress is a primary reason parents are pushing to move graduation to Siloam Springs, Haak said.

"No stress trying to find parking," she said. "No stress being shut out of the building, even for bathrooms, until the last possible second. No stress in the mad dash to get decent seats."

Haak said she understands why the district holds it in Fayetteville.

"I think their biggest fear is weather, which is an issue, and it's just easier to have someone else do it for them," she said. "I get why they have it there."

Amanda Cunningham, president of the Siloam Springs Project Graduation committee, agrees graduation should be held in Siloam Springs.

"High school graduation is a culmination of many years of hard work. It's a special time, a memorable time, and it deserves the best we can offer to the graduates."

Cunningham thinks the pros outweigh the cons.

"Yes, there are logistical factors to consider like weather and the amount of help needed for set up and tear down, but graduation shouldn't just be another, 'Well, we did that' event," she said.

"We owe it to our students, to their families and to our community to treat graduation with the same amount of time and dedication that our graduates have given to their education."

Elsewhere, the Bentonville School Board decided in June to continue holding graduation ceremonies at the district's two high schools for at least another year, as they've done since 2020. Bentonville and West high schools will host commencement at their respective stadiums in 2023.

For many years prior to the pandemic, Bentonville used Bud Walton Arena at the University of Arkansas for graduation ceremonies.

Bentonville administrators said it's not easier or less expensive for the district to host graduation at the schools compared to going to Fayetteville, but it is more convenient for families and does have an economic impact on the community.

Print Headline: Parent starts petition to bring graduation back to Siloam Springs


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