FOR THE first time in three decades, members of Arundel High School's graduating class will say goodbye to their alma mater on their home field.
"Arundel is an institution that has celebrated 150 years," said Sharon Stratton, principal of the Gambrills school. "We just thought it would be a great end to a year of festivities."
About 5,000 high school seniors will receive diplomas in Anne Arundel County this year, said Mary Gable, director of high schools.
Students from the county's traditional high schools began hearing the strains of the graduation march on Tuesday. The final diplomas will be handed out next Tuesday.
Nine ceremonies were scheduled to be held at the Show Place Arena and Prince George's Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro. Severna Park High School's seniors graduated Tuesday at Towson University, and Chesapeake High School's students graduated Wednesday in their stadium in Pasadena. Students in the county's evening high school program graduated last night at Severna Park High School.
Arundel High School is wrapping up a year's worth of revelry commemorating its 150th anniversary. Renovations to Arundel's Carroll Field made the return of graduation tonight possible.
The school's athletic boosters started organizing the effort to refurbish the athletic facility two years ago, Stratton said. About 2,000 bleacher seats were installed, along with a new press box area, bringing the total number of seats to more than 4,000. Local businesses donated many components and supplies, including a concession stand with restrooms, said Arundel booster club President John Puglise.
The club took out a $250,000 loan for the construction; the county school system agreed to help repay the loan by returning up to $15,000 annually of its share of proceeds from $4 tickets to games for 10 years, the Gambrills resident said.
Construction began last year and was completed in time for the last football game, Puglise said.
"The better your surroundings are, the more you're going to step up to the plate and be proud," said Kathy Puglise, booster club secretary and John's wife.
The Puglises, Torrey C. Jacobsen Jr. and other boosters even learned to lay about 500 bricks sold as a fund-raiser to create a 110-foot walk of fame.
"That isn't on my resume," joked John Puglise, who is an executive for a food distribution company.
He was happy that students will graduate at their school because their own choir and band could perform.
"This really is more homey; it's more personal," he said.
Stratton said having the event at their field will help build school spirit.
"We've been working here at the school for two years on this idea of `Wildcat pride' - pride in the history of the school, pride in what we're currently achieving," Stratton said, referring to the school mascot.
She's received many emotional calls from parents who are alumni.
Senior Sarah Ferguson said she's enjoyed reminiscing about more recent history with her classmates, such as during a senior slide show of photos of their experiences at the school.
The Crofton resident, a student member of the county school board this year, said she was proud of her class and thanked her principal for working hard to make graduation special.
"I think it'll be a really great way to end the whole year," Ferguson said.
Yesterday, senior Jasmine Wells of Odenton still had to buy a white outfit to wear under her white graduation gown.
She was happy about graduating at the high school, because it matched the vision of commencement on the football field she developed from Hollywood and television.
"I thought that was always what it should have been anyways," Wells said - as long as it didn't rain. The 18-year-old put her trust in the Farmers' Almanac, which does not forecast rain.
Just in case, Arundel will prepare its gymnasium, but there's only enough room for each student to have two guests attend an indoor ceremony. They are allowed eight if the event is held outside.
Stratton said one of the last graduations scheduled at home, in 1974, was canceled because of heavy rain.
"We're praying for a beautiful day," she said.