Grand graduation: Amherst high school commencement ceremony ‘where the Cavs play’

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AMHERST, Ohio (WJW) — School districts continue to face challenges created by the pandemic as they plan graduation ceremonies.

It prompted the Amherst School District to rent the home of the Cleveland Cavaliers for a couple of hours for the May 22 graduation of the Class of 2021 at Marion L. Steele High School.

Sam Barrett is the president of the senior class at Amherst Steele and says there’s been a buzz on campus, ever since the school’s 307 seniors learned their commencement will be held at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

Barrett told Fox 8, “Personally I had to do like a double take almost, like make sure I read that right. Since I’m class president, I’m going to have to give a speech, and that kind of added a little bit more pressure, but I think with my classmates, most I’ve talked to are either excited or just happy that we’re having it in person.”

The Amherst School District had considered holding graduation at the Comets Football Stadium to allow for social distancing but concern that weather could become a factor convinced the district to look for an indoor venue.

Amherst Steele Principal Joe Tellier says the district then learned that Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse would be available for the commencement ceremony on May 22 and that the cost of $20,000 to $25,000 would not be much more than what it would take to hold the ceremony at their own stadium.

“When we starting looking at, we would need a stage and a sound system, and the things we would have to do at our own stadium, and for a little bit more, we were able to take Mother Nature out of that equation and ultimately get more of our parents and families in the stands,” said Tellier.

Before the pandemic, it had become a tradition for Amherst Steele to hold graduation ceremonies at Cleveland State’s Wolstein Center, but of course the arena is not available this year because it is one of the State of Ohio’s mass vaccination sites.

The school district says they were told by management at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse that the arena is available for commencement ceremonies this year only, because the arena is not hosting any concerts or other special events.

“It’s going to be an opportunity that we’ve never had before, there’s a ‘humong-o-tron’ above,” said Tellier. “How many kids are going to be able to say, ‘I graduated from where the Cavs play?’”

The president of the senior class at Amherst Steele says one of the most important lessons the class of 2021 learned over the past year, is that it’s wise to roll with the changes.

“It’s kind of the process this year especially, stuff is just going to happen, you’ve got to do whatever you can,” said Sam Barrett.

In another sign of how COVID has changed the way schools operate, the commencement ceremony will be streamed on the Amherst Steele’s Youtube channel, “Comets Live.”

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