Pete Reed did not get to see his son, Preston, graduate June 7 even though he said he had a ticket for the ceremony and arrived before 2 p.m.
Like many such events in Texarkana, Texas High School’s graduation ceremony was held at First Baptist Church on Moores Lane. Family and friends were allowed in the church at 1 p.m. Graduation began at 2 p.m. Each student was previously given five tickets to give to family members. But even if you made it to the church on time, that didn’t necessarily mean you were able to see your child graduate, according to some.
Such was the case for Pete Reed, said his wife, Carla, who sat inside the church anxiously waiting for her husband to arrive.
“I saw him through the glass doors but the Bowie County deputy wouldn’t let me let him in even as I pleaded with him. I even asked if he could at least come into the air conditioning and sit in the open foyer just to listen to the names being called over the speaker. It was empty except for the deputy. ‘No,’ on that one too, even though he would not be going into the auditorium.”
Allowing people to enter the church after the graduation ceremony had begun could easily be deemed a distraction. Yet, Carla disagreed, saying people were up and down, getting in and out of their seats to take photographs. She said she cannot imagine anything more distracting that.
“After the ceremony started we were allowed to get up to take pictures and such, and people were walking around everywhere. So not being allowed in wasn’t about disrupting the event. We were already inside but were allowed out of our seats to get up and move around to take pictures when our student went on stage. So that’s a disruption in itself. I assumed that’s why they stopped people from entering after 2 p.m. because of the disruption. Why else would they turn away parents who had tickets?” she asked.
“I’m just still so hurt. The one person I wanted there was not let in. I needed my husband! I’m a crier by nature and this was just such a special moment ruined as I cried so much and it wasn’t all about my son graduating! I was just so sad for my husband not getting to experience it with me,” she said.
Carla said her husband got off work, got cleaned up and rushed to the ceremony, getting there in enough time to get in before it started. She said he found a line when he arrived of about 15-20 people all still trying to get in but the line was moving slow as they had to take up tickets.
“Well, as soon as 2:00 hit the TISD police guy that was in charge came around and ordered the doors to be shut and to not let anyone in for any reason. So all these people who had tickets who were there by 2:00 were just out of luck. My husband said many, many were obviously distraught. Some had just come out for a quick smoke break and then they were trapped outside.”
At a few minutes after 2 p.m., a determined Carla said she rose from her seat and again approached the deputies at the door. “No amount of pleading would work. They stated they would be fired and the only man that could possibly help was on stage, Paul Norton the Superintendent.
“I came back to my seat in tears. They kept saying different things. All had different reasons. One said they were at capacity, but how could that be? They handed out tickets. Many tickets went unused outside. I had four unused tickets myself. There were open seats everywhere!” she said.
Tina Veal-Gooch, Executive Director of Public Relations for TISD, said it is unfortunate if any parents or attendees became upset but she hopes they understand that conducting the logistics for a graduating class of 350 students, 150 staff and 2,000 guests can be a bit daunting.
“Our Support Operations Team has conducted this event in a well-organized fashion for many years utilizing a well thought out plan of action that works for all and has to be enforced by all in order for the event to run as smoothly as it does.”
Veal-Gooch went on to say that each student graduation packet (with tickets) contains a detailed list of reminders for students and parents. Specifically, that doors will open at 1:00 p.m. for seating and close at 2:00 p.m. (no exceptions).
“At 2:00 p.m. when the doors were closed, there were no guests in line at the ticket entrance with tickets. You can only enter if you have a ticket. Operations began announcing 10 minutes prior to closing that the doors would be closing promptly at 2:00 p.m. Any persons, with tickets, were let in. If you were in line without a ticket, you would not be let in because they cannot be purchased at the door. Students are given a specific quantity to dole out to parents, etc., as they and their parents deem appropriate,” she said.
Carla said she realizes that there’s nothing that can be done about the situation now, but it still causes her pain.
“I know talking about this will not change anything. We can never get back Saturday. But I’m just so hurt by this and my husband is devastated that he couldn’t watch his first born son walk across the stage.”