'The big issue is the tradition': Large senior class prompts change of graduation venue

When Burbank High seniors walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas in May, they'll do it on their own turf instead of at the Starlight Bowl, where most of the school's graduation ceremonies have been held since the 1950s.

"The big issue is the tradition," said Mike Bertram, Burbank High's principal.

Burbank High students began receiving their diplomas at the Starlight Bowl in the late 1950s, and every senior class has graduated there except for a year in the early 1980s when a fire prevented a class from holding its ceremony at the location, Bertram said.

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With a sizable graduating class of 650 students this year, and limited seating for their family and friends at the Starlight Bowl — on top of the cost for city services, such as fire, emergency and police personnel — Bertram surveyed parents and students recently about changing the venue.

The cost for the ceremony at the Starlight Bowl last year came to $42,000, paid for with district funds.

Bertram estimates it will cost $20,000 to hold the event on the high school's sports field, where graduating classes accepted their diplomas before the Starlight Bowl was built.

In years past, students could invite only four friends or family members to the bowl. This year, however, students will be given six free tickets and the option to purchase additional tickets for $10 each, Bertram said.

Another impetus for holding the ceremony on the field was easier accessibility.

At the Starlight Bowl — where there are 3,000 seats and room for 2,000 more people to sit on the lawn — the elderly and handicapped struggle to access the amphitheater, which is located on top of a steep hill and requires a shuttle service for many people to take them from the parking lot to the bowl.

Then, once guests arrive at the bowl, they have to contend with stairs to get to their seating.

Bertram said most parents supported holding the ceremony on the high school's field and liked the option to invite more family and friends to their child's ceremony.

"They are also pleased not having to stack-park and get to the bowl so early because of the [traffic] congestion," he said.

Students were more split about the change, with some disappointed that the school is stepping away from a longstanding tradition.

"For the students, it's mixed," Bertram said. "There were students who were very emotional. I don't want to discount anybody's feelings. I want to honor traditions, but also make sure everybody is safe."

Bertram said some students want to help with planning the graduation ceremony.

"It will be very dignified and respectful," Bertram said. "I don't think people will be disappointed."

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Kelly Corrigan, kelly.corrigan@latimes.com

Twitter: @kellymcorrigan

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