BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - The Mississippi Coast Coliseum is essentially back in business when it comes to hosting high school graduations, now that COVID-19 restrictions have eased up. In the next few months, the coliseum is planning to host 11 high school graduations.
That’s a big deal, but for Mississippi Coast Coliseum Executive Director Matt McDonnell, the real victory was in 2020 when he had only seven.
“It was really the first event that we did coming back out of total quarantine and shutdown,” said McDonnell.
And they helped keep the doors open and prove an important point.
“Those graduations became the catalyst for us, to where we could show not only the school administrators and the parents of the graduates, but also the community as a whole that we could do events here safely,” McDonnell added.
This year, six people per graduate will be allowed, which is up from four last year.
McDonnell said he still has capacity requirements, but even with restrictions, more people will be allowed at the graduations than at any other event.
In February, Ocean Springs High School announced it would be having its graduation ceremonies at Greyhound Stadium. However, when the district found out there was an option to go to the coliseum, 70% of those who voted in the senior class said yes.
“I’m super excited, amazingly excited that we get a normal graduation, and a normal graduation that can be safe,” said senior Avery Sams. “The stadium, I would have been so thankful for that in place of a virtual graduation, but the coliseum definitely gets me way more excited than having to sit in 100 degree weather in the summer, sweating in all that make up and dress up.”
And after the pandemic forced the school to an alternative graduation last year, the guest limits are of little concern to her.
“I think at this point, everything we do get is really amazing to us,” said Sams. “And, I think that’s a good attitude to have after all this.”
So does assistant principal Lori Brennan.
“For us, it’s very important that we try to make things as normal as we possibly can in the middle of a pandemic, and coliseum graduation is normal,” Brennan said. “I know that’s what I did when I was in high school. That’s what we’ve always done. And that makes it real for the kids.”
USM Gulf Coast and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College also will have graduation ceremonies at the coliseum.