AUBURN – Brenda Wylie has it all planned.

A late afternoon ceremony at the football field behind Walton Elementary School. Hundreds of chairs could provide plenty of seating for friends and family. And as evening falls, the field’s lights could illuminate the area.

“It would work,” the Edward Little High School senior class president insists.

But Wylie and Edward Little’s 250 other seniors won’t be crossing a small outdoor stage during twilight to receive their diplomas next month. Instead, they’ll be in the school gymnasium.

And many of them are angry about it.

Said 17-year-old Tasha Vye, “We’ve gotten the shaft.”

For at least two decades, Auburn high school seniors have graduated at the Central Maine Civic Center in Lewiston – one of the few local buildings big enough to accommodate the school’s 300 graduates and their 2,000 guests. But in April, civic center officials realized that building renovations wouldn’t be completed by the school’s June 1 graduation.

They told the school to find another space.

With just weeks before graduation, Principal James Miller scrambled to find a new graduation spot. Fearing rain on graduation day, he discarded any outdoor plans and quickly settled on the school gym.

“You only have so many resources and so much time to get everything ready,” Miller said.

He got a small stage for seniors to cross when they receive their diplomas and brought in the new lighting that had been scheduled to be installed later in the year. For seating, he decided to use the gym’s bleachers, temporary bleachers and chairs.

Because fire and safety codes said the gym could only hold 2,000 people, students were given six tickets each for friends and family members to attend. In past years, students were given more tickets if their graduating class was smaller than 300.

When the seniors learned about the plan, Wylie said, “everyone was pretty upset about it.”

They argued that the space was too small and audience members would be too crowded. They took issue with the limited number of tickets available.

Some of the school’s graduating seniors tried talking with administrators about the situation, but they said officials didn’t listen.

Tasha Vye – who doesn’t have enough tickets for her aunt and uncle to attend graduation – helped start a petition. Within days she got 200 signatures, she said, and dozens of ideas for an alternative graduation spot, including Bates College and several outdoor areas.

But Vye said school officials didn’t do anything with it.

“They just sort of said ‘Oh, all right.’ And they didn’t really look into other places,” she said.

After that, seniors walked out of class in protest. But the demonstration lasted only as long as it took for school officials to threaten suspension.

The next day, Miller met with some members of the senior class to talk about the situation. Nothing was resolved.

Students say they are frustrated and upset going into one of the happiest days of their lives. They don’t understand why the school didn’t listen to them.

“It just didn’t feel like we had much of a say,” said Linda Hoang, 17.

But with just 11 days until graduation, Miller said there’s nothing he can do. Even getting the gym ready by June 1 is going to be a challenge.

“We did the best we could do,” he said.

And besides, Miller added, it might be nice to keep the ceremony so close to home.

“I think there’s something nice about graduating from your own school in your hometown.”

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