Generating Graduation


Grand Marshal, Ms. Fay, address the senior class on April 14th at graduation practice. While this isn’t her first time being grand marshal, Ms. Fay was honored to be chosen again, “[to] any teacher chosen, [this] means more to us than Teacher of the Year, because it’s by our students that we’re chosen.” Photo by Matthew Schott

As the end of the school year approaches, murmurs and whispers begin to fill the hallways and classrooms about graduation nearing closer. For the class of 2023, graduation will be held at 8:30am, June 3, at the Family Arena. They’ll file into their alphabetically-ordered seats on the floor of the arena and begin the last few hours among their peers, principals, and their chosen grand marshals, Mr. Taylor Yocum and Ms. Laurie Fay. A few short hours later, they’ll cross their tassel from the right side of their caps to the left. At this point, the class of 2023 will no longer be students, but alumni. With 417 students graduating this year, and thousands over the course of Howell Central’s past 26 years, it inspires curiosity as to how each graduation comes to fruition. 

First and foremost, the district chooses a date for the following year, an entire year in advance, coming almost directly after graduation for the current class. From there, Administrative Assistant Theresa Wassilak and Principal Dr. Suzanne Leake take over the majority of the planning. Beginning in the October of the current school year, there are plenty of preliminary tasks to be completed before the following June. 

“[Dr. Leake and I] start running a senior list of how many people we feel are going to be graduating. [Then,] we look at the kids that are taking early outs, that graduate technically in December, we start ordering all the supplies for that diploma and diploma covers and stuff goes out about ordering cap and gowns. You know, getting all of that kind of stuff in house so we can start getting that organized and ready to go for the graduation practice and the ceremony,” Mrs. Wassilak said.

Outside of the large gym, Mrs. Rebecca Oswald lines up her assignment of students for the processional. the processional is when all of the students walk in and head to their seats, while Pomp and Circumstance is playing. Photo by Matthew Schott

As the year moves on, Dr. Leake and Mrs. Wassilak begin to hone in on the smaller details pertaining to the individual day of graduation. As June 3 is the same date of graduation for the other two high schools, collaboration and communication between the three principals is a necessity to ensure the day runs smoothly.

“[The other principals and I] divvy up who’s bringing the choir risers, who’s bringing the flags and stands, who’s bringing the podiums, I’ve been working with them since the beginning of second semester. We went to the Family Arena and worked with the folks that work there just to make sure we’re all on the same page in regards to where graduates enter and who parks where, and it will be live streamed again this year, so I met with the videographer for that,” Dr. Leake said. 

While Dr. Leake works with the other two high schools in the district for the stage, she also works within the building as well to focus on the needs of the graduates and their families. 

“I take all the projected graduates, with the help of others to determine, are there graduates who need some assistance during the ceremony? Do they need to be seated in a specific spot or does anyone have a physical disability that we need to assist with? We try to make sure that we have interpreters in case there’s a family [member] or graduate at the ceremony who is hearing impaired,” Dr. Leake said 

With the seating chart completed, Dr. Leake can now concentrate on the commencement itself, ensuring that the order of events goes smoothly. 

“The senior class officer gets us the class motto and the class song, we have tryouts for the senior class speeches. I have the [graduation speakers] write an autobiography to give me information about themselves, so I can introduce them at the ceremony. We make sure that we assign all the students to the homeroom teacher, and then I have people to collect tickets. I have people distribute diplomas after the ceremony because you know, you really don’t get your diploma when you go across the stage,” Dr. Leake said. 

With plenty to do, things quickly come down to the wire as multiple tasks cannot be completed until grades and behavior are finalized. However on the day of graduation, Dr. Leake has plenty of help to collect tickets, distribute diplomas, and get late graduates into their place with the help of Mrs. Wassilak, Mrs. Annette Herdt, and Mrs. Melissa Halloran. Despite the stressful time leading up to the ceremony, this will be Dr. Leake’s and Mrs. Wassilak’s first commencement on their own, they are excited for the changes they were able to bring about for the class of 2023.

Senior Adrienne Winkler holds her name card and looks to the side at other graduates. There are 23 rows of graduates on two sides, Navy and Silver. Photo by Matthew Schott

“We’re going back to adding the processional where all the graduates process into the arena to “Pomp and Circumstance,” we have not had that since COVID. All of our speakers will be live in the past couple years; they’ve all been recorded.” Dr. Leake said. “This year, we actually had a walk through practice. Previously, during COVID It was a recorded video of the administrators showing the graduates kind of the protocols or the routines of graduation.”

Also, moving forward, Dr. Leake has expressed that if a student were to have completed boot camp prior to graduation, she would allow that student to wear their dress uniform instead of a cap and gown, which has not been the rule in prior years. As multiple changes come to the commencement ceremony this year, Dr. Leake could not be more ecstatic to offer the class of 2023 the wonderful graduation she has prepared all year for them. 

“I absolutely adore this senior class. The senior class has been fantastic. Seniors have the potential to set the tone for the building, and I could not have asked for a better year when it comes to the senior class. I’m excited for the graduates and for me, I just want to make sure that everything is done so that that day can be a day of celebration and not a day of angst or frustration for anybody. So I really just want to make sure I get everything taken care of and lined up so that we can so the graduates can enjoy the day,” Dr. Leake said.