Administration cancels Baccalaureate despite parent appeal to uphold tradition

Photo by Peyton Wang
Photo by Peyton Wang

Citing insufficient funds, unavailable event space and a lack of support for a decades-old tradition, administrators have canceled Baccalaureate even though many students and members of the Parent Network Committee hope to see it continue in some form.

Usually taking place on the Sunday of Memorial Weekend and featuring a variety of student talents, including performances from the concert choir and student dancers, Baccalaureate also featured accomplished inspirational speakers such as Steve Jobs, former Principal Sandra Peason said.

Pearson, who was principal at Paly from 1987 to 1994 and again from 2002 to 2004, said Baccalaureate has been a tradition likely since the school opened, making it an invaluable way to pay tribute to graduating seniors and prepare them for what’s to come. 

“It was a chance for family and friends to come together and celebrate seniors but also to look forward to the future in an optimistic and inspirational way,” Pearson said.

Due to COVID-19, the last Baccalaureate was in 2019. Since the pandemic forced the cancellation of Baccalaureate for two years, Assistant Principal Jerry Berkson said this is a perfect opportunity to change what he said is the event’s old-fashioned format.

“If we’re going to make some changes, this is the right time to do it because we haven’t had it the last few years,” Berkson said.

But senior Jo Ann Morkner, who participated in the choir’s Baccalaureate performance in 2019 as a freshman, said she appreciated it as another way for seniors to celebrate their time at Paly. She also said the event made her more hopeful for her future.

“As a freshman, hearing speakers and awards being presented was really inspirational,” Morkner said.

Berkson, though, said part of the reason Paly administration canceled Baccalaureate was because they felt it was too secluded from the rest of the school. Instead, Berkson said administrators are going to try to incorporate guest speakers and other aspects of Baccalaureate into this year’s graduation ceremony.“(Principal Klein) would like to have it where other students have the ability to see (the guest speakers) so they have something to strive for or look forward to,” Berkson said.

Berkson also said having to pay for both Baccalaureate and graduation may not be worth the cost.

“We get an allocation of $23,000 a year from the district,” Berkson said. “When you fill in all the graduation festivities, and then you fill in Baccalaureate, you’re talking about going over $20,000 for a one-hour event, when we can incorporate (Baccalaureate) in so many other ways.”

And Parent Network Coordinator Nana Chancellor said the budget for events like Baccalaureate is even more constrained this year than before COVID-19 because the money for Baccalaureate came from facility rental income from outside vendors and schools that no longer exists.

“Obviously during COVID-19, that hasn’t happened as much, so there’s been a smaller income stream from where the Baccalaureate money used to come from,” Chancellor said.

Choir director Michael Najar, who has been at Paly since 2003, said while he enjoyed choir being a featured part of Baccalaureate, he is not beholden to it and is glad to see some changes happening.

“There’s plenty of other opportunities for (choir) to celebrate the seniors, which we want to do, and we will continue to do that at any venue that will allow us to,” Najar said.

Though budget is a concern, former Parent Network Coordinator Liz Jones, who had a role in planning the Baccalaureate that was canceled in 2020, said the event is a time to create and capture lasting memories — a goal that’s not possible to achieve at graduation because of how hectic everything is.

“At graduation, you’re lucky if you manage to catch (the graduates) for a couple of minutes after the ceremony,” Jones said. “It’s generally kind of a quick kiss and a not very good picture in the middle of a crowd of people, and then they’re rushing off to change and go to the grad party.”

Chancellor said another drawback to canceling Baccalaureate is that it is more accessible for parents and siblings who live out of town because it takes place on the weekend while graduation is always on a Wednesday.

“Graduation being on a Wednesday makes it hard for family members and older siblings who are away at college to participate,” Chancellor said. “On the weekend before, it’s more conducive to out-of-town visitors to come.”

Despite administrative canceling of the event, Chancellor said the Parent Network Committee hopes to find a a place  to hold Baccalaureate on June 1, before graduation. The Flint Center, which used to host the event but closed in 2019, isn’t an option any more, but Chancellor said her group is looking for a new venue. But even if they find one, administrative approval may be difficult to obtain.

“I don’t think (canceling Baccalaureate) is going to be this tragic thing that students aren’t going to be able to get over,” Berkson said. “Most (students) have never even seen a Paly Baccalaureate.”

However, Pearson said she would be devastated if Baccalaureate did not occur this year because of how significant it is to Paly’s history.

“Once a tradition is lost, it’s generally gone. You don’t go back,” Pearson said. “I know Paly alums who are in their 70s or 80s and remember their Baccalaureate. It saddens me that it might be lost for future seniors.”

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