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Central High School's Class of 2012 was the first group of graduates to have commencement on campus since 1973.
June 05, 2012
INDEPENDENCE -- Rachel Leos peered over the balcony inside Central High's gym, trying to find her daughter, AnaLaura Lugo, among cap-and-gown clad students rehearsing for graduation on Saturday.
Leos has been to CHS ceremonies before, for nieces and nephews. She was shaking with anticipation for this one -- Lugo is her oldest child and her first to get her diploma.
After finding Lugo -- "she needed a safety pin for her scarf" -- Leos race-walked back to Panther Stadium to meet up with 20 family members there for the occasion.
"When they have graduation at (Western Oregon University) it gets really crowded," she said. "It's so nice they had it at the school this year."
The seats were full. The band was playing. White and red streamers decorated the perimeter of the track. If not for the seating on the track and stage erected at the 50-yard line, this could have been a home football game.
CHS Class of 2012 diplomas
This was just as special, maybe more. For the first time in almost 40 years, Central High held its graduation ceremony on school grounds.
During her speech, senior Allison Bansen said she and the other 156 members of the Class of 2012 have been experimented on during the last four years, noting programs such as a lunch-on-campus requirement.
"Today, we're the first to graduate on our own turf," Bansen told an audience of more than 2,000. "Quite literally."
"It makes it more meaningful," said Vanessa Mendoza, a graduate bound for Portland State University in the fall. "This is where we started our high school careers and it's where I think we should end it."
If you're not a Monmouth or Independence resident, this might not mean a whole lot to you. But Central High students have had to travel west to WOU's New Physical Education Building for graduation since 1974.
Carol Cable was CHS's vice principal in 1973, the last year graduation was held at the Independence school.
The event used to be in the gym, which had room for four guests per student. The football field, with its scant bleachers, wasn't an option, Cable said. He wasn't involved in the decision to move graduation, but believed it was a reasonable one, he said.
"And there was a limit in the gym because of fire codes; it wasn't just an opinion that we should have it somewhere else," Cable said, adding, "And you get that many people packed in there that time of the year, and it was one hot son of a gun."
Mike Ainsworth, a Monmouth resident and Polk County Commissioner, was part of the Class of '73. He opined there was nothing wrong with WOU graduations -- his own kids had their ceremonies there.
"But you miss that connection," he said.
Grace Peets, a graduate who will study music at Southern Oregon University in the fall, said faculty and students all wanted the ceremony at home.
"This is our school," Peets said. "It means more to graduate from the place where all those memories actually happened."