School superintendent will have ‘dignified’ graduation ceremony

Published 10:06 am Wednesday, May 1, 2019

By Beth Alston

AMERICUS — Sumter County Schools Superintendent, Torrance Choates, Ed.D., is a no-nonsense type of leader. He has proven that on several occasions since he came to Americus three years ago. He has put a strong emphasis on teacher and student performance as well as discipline. Now he wants to make a change in the way the commencement ceremony will be conducted this year and in subsequent years.
The ceremony is slated for 8 p.m. Friday, May 24 at Alton Shell Stadium. In the event of inclement weather, the ceremony will be moved inside to the Student Success Center on the Georgia Southwestern State University campus. The number of graduates will determine how many tickets each graduate will be allowed for family and friends, Choates advised.
Simply put, Choates wants this year’s graduation to be dignified. “I’ve been here three years and I have observed the degradation of graduation. Every year it seems to be getting worse than the previous year.” He refers to the screaming and yelling and general lack of decorum.
The superintendent said he has had concerned parents come to him and he has had his own concerns which he’s shared with the principal of Americus-Sumter High School, Kimothy Hadley. “It’s gotten to the point where everybody is just screaming, and it’s continuous. We have family members and relatives traveling from out of town, and out of state. They come all the way here to hear their relative’s name being called, and through all the chaos, the noise, you can’t hear it; it’s just one big blur.”
Choates said he’s had a teacher come to him who was upset that her own child graduated and she, too, were upset with the noise. “She told me it wasn’t fair for them to have to sit there and not even be able to hear their child’s name called out,” he said. “There’s a strong need to have a dignified graduation,” he said. “They [the audience] can hold their applause until the end and then they can celebrate as loud as they want.”
Choates was asked how he intends to control any disorder at graduation. He said ushers will be posted at the ceremony as well as law enforcement officers. He said audience members will not be allowed to talk or clap during the ceremony while the graduates’ names are being called.
“If they’re caught screaming out ‘that’s my baby … or whatever,’ a police officer is going to walk over to them and … they will be escorted out. … We’re going to be prepared,” he said, “because we know we’re going to have one, or two, or three to do this regardless. They think nothing’s going to happen. It’s not that we’re trying to be disrespectful or mean to them, we’re just trying to get them to understand that graduation is important. These kids have worked for four, solid years trying to complete high school, and their hard work needs to be shown by … hearing their name being called. Just wait and let everybody’s name be called.”
Choates said the names will be called one after the other to move things along and screaming only serves to slow the process and rob the graduates of their recognition.
“In the long run, people will appreciate it,” he said. “I know this won’t be a popular stance that we’re taking because they’ve been allowed to do this for so long. The message I’m trying to convey is to have respect for the graduation process. Deep down in my heart, if they don’t hear anything else I have to say, I want this system to be number one in everything: athletics, academics, respect, everything.”
Choates says he needs the help of the parents to make these changes in the way graduation is conducted. “We have a united front,” he said. “The administration at the high school understands the need for and importance of having a dignified graduation. … It’s hard to undo something when it’s been programmed into them for all these years to celebrate. They think it’s the new norm, when actually it shouldn’t have ever been allowed to begin with.”
Choates warns that action will be taken with those who refuse to go by the rules.
“We have the right mixture in this community to be number one, to become anything we want,” he said. “We’ve just got to realize the importance of working together and learning from each other and respecting and appreciating diversity. That’s our main hurdle. If we can cross that threshold, then Sumter County, in my opinion, is unstoppable.”