Hillsborough crams in 4 graduations a day
TAMPA - When Carla Bruning graduated from Robinson High School, someone "streaked'' during the ceremony. It was 1975, after all, but it also was hot. The event was held outdoors at the school's stadium. Next month, Bruning, now principal at King High, will watch as nearly 400 Lions receive diplomas inside the climate-controlled comfort of the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall."I like air-conditioning,'' she said. King is the first of 27 Hillsborough County high schools to hold graduation ceremonies at the fairgrounds starting at 9:30 a.m. June 2. Originally, senior classes at 14 of the schools were set to graduate at the University of South Florida Sun Dome. Renovations to the dome, however, put a kink in the plan. Now, the fairgrounds will host seven days of graduations. On six of the days, four ceremonies will be held with the latest one at 8 p.m. "Just like a Saturday at the state fair,'' is how Dennis McDermott, director of event services at the fairgrounds, described the schedule crunch. The biggest challenge: getting one class graduated and out of the way in time for the next class, he said. Preparations already are under way as strategies for cleanup crews and parking attendants are hashed out. Entrances along U.S. 301 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard will be open, and the fairgrounds boasts one of the largest parking lots among Tampa Bay area venues, McDermott said. "We won't run out of parking spaces,'' he said. Extra bleachers have been added to the hall, which should be able to accommodate about 8,000 well-wishers. "We're ready for it,'' McDermott said. So is the district, which has the timing down to a science, said Lewis Brinson, an assistant superintendent. Each school has about an hour and 15 minutes then out they must go. The mantra for each class: Be on time, start on time, finish on time. No Sun Dome also means no Jumbotrons. The giant scoreboards with video screens made it easier to see graduates as they walked across the stage. The Expo Hall is intimate enough that families will be able to see just fine, Brinson said. King also gets the honor of the first rehearsal — Tuesday, May 31, at 7 a.m. It's early, Bruning conceded, but kids are already used to getting up that early and it's the same time as last year. At least it's better than having rehearsals at 7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, like Strawberry Crest and Wharton. "It's putting the cramp in my style,'' said Strawberry Crest Principal David Brown. For his students, though, it's not really an issue. "They're so excited,'' Brown said. At Wharton, students plan to meet for breakfast after rehearsal, Principal Brad Woods said. It's one of the last events the Class of 2011 will participate in together. "It doesn't bother me,'' said 18-year-old King High senior Dawn Krockta. "I can go to the beach afterwards.'' And it's all part of learning about the real world for these soon-to-be adults. "We try to teach them not just what's in books,'' Woods said, "but good habits for life. "We set a time for them to be there and we expect them to be on time.'' firstname.lastname@example.org (813) 259-7144 Search Grads at TBO.com for a complete graduation schedule and other highlights, school by school.