Lawrence High School seniors became graduates Sunday night.
Even a sweltering Allen Fieldhouse couldn't dampen the enthusiasm Sunday night of Lawrence High School's Class of 1996 as its members participated in the school's 122nd commencement.
The graduation ceremony was moved to Kansas University's fieldhouse from Memorial Stadium because of threat of rain and severe weather. LHS Principal Brad Tate said it was the first time since 1988 that commencement was held inside.
Because Lawrence was under a tornado watch Sunday night, Tate cautioned the graduates and their relatives and friends that he might have to give them instructions to evacuate the arena.
But the ceremony continued -- swiftly -- without interruption. Onlookers used programs to fan themselves in the saunalike fieldhouse as they strained to hear speakers.
It was a disappointment to LHS English teacher Art Sloan that the ceremony was indoors.
"I'd rather do almost anything than this," Sloan said before the festivities began as he mopped his brow. "It's hot. It's miserable. And it lacks all the ceremony. There's no processional."
Sloan was the winner of the outstanding teacher award, chosen by members of the graduating class, who gave him a standing ovation.
"I've always been allowed to teach the best," he said.
And the LHS senior class president, Ed Wang, was named outstanding senior. Wang, the son of Ching and Shu Wang, plans to attend Northwestern University and major in electrical engineering.
"There were a lot of other people who deserved this," he said.
During the ceremony, two graduates spoke, with fondness, about their years at Lawrence High School. The two students were chosen to address their classmates by a panel of teachers and senior class members.
Sara Garvin, in a speech about "Easy-going Memories," recalled the successes of her schoolmates in many areas, including on the volleyball court and on the football and baseball fields.
She said she loved the Mondays after LHS students had excelled during the weekend.
"The better we did, the longer the announcements, and the shorter first hour was," she said.
Garvin, the daughter of Ron and Jane Garvin, encouraged her fellow graduates to continue walking the path of excellence.
"Take pride in yourself and your abilities," said Garvin, who plans to attend Kansas State University and major in forestry.
Anne Murray, the daughter of Tom and Cindy Murray, also spoke about accomplishments of LHS students in her speech, "The Legacy of Lionhood."
Murray, who plans to attend Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., reminded those gathered about how the LHS Chesty Lion is perceived. It commands respect, she said.
"We will always cherish the memory of being Lawrence High Lions," she said.
Before graduates filed to the platform from folding chairs set up on the basketball floor, academic accomplishments of the graduating classes' top 10 percent and its 14 valedictorians were recognized.
And then it was the moment that so many had waited for -- the walk to the platform to receive their diploma from school board Vice President George Crawford.
"Best wishes to each of you for a very bright and happy future," Tate told the graduates.
It took just 40 minutes for the 520 class members to file to the west end of the basketball floor and back to their seats, amid applause of friends and family, who caught the special moment on film.
Once the final student received her diploma, the graduates whooped and hollered, throwing their mortarboards into the air.
And after hugs, handshakes and pats on their backs, members of the 1996 Lawrence High School graduating class left the fieldhouse, walking in the rain, toward the rest of their lives.
- Look for coverage of the LHS "Farewell Fiesta" in Tuesday's Journal-World.