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Rain puts damper on graduation but show goes on Wednesday

After waiting four years to graduate, the Class of 2014 had to wait one more night to celebrate the milestone. Storms erupted Tuesday evening during the outdoor commencement ceremonies at both Central and North high schools.

“All day Tuesday we were watching the radar, and it looked like everything was going to pass to the north,” said Gretchen Zelinski, whose son Taylor was graduating from Naperville Central. “I was really optimistic that it would happen.”

And it did, sort of.

As members of Naperville Central High School filed in, it began to drizzle. Then, immediately after the national anthem — but before a single name was called — Principal Bob Wiesbrook informed the crowd a lightning strike had been detected and everyone needed to exit the field.

Across town at Naperville North, students were still in the process of entering the stadium when the weather changed, forcing the ceremony to be halted.

“It started to sprinkle, and in just seconds, it was a downpour,” said Sue Wren, whose granddaughter Caroline Letzel was graduating. “The umbrellas were up, and the kids continued to come in. There was an announcement made on the public address system that the graduation was cancelled.”

The administrative teams at Central and North rallied late Tuesday and throughout the next day to ensure the Class of 2014 received a fitting send-off. Commencement ceremonies were rescheduled for Wednesday evening.

“Everyone at Naperville Central pitched in to make it a success,” Wiesbrook said. “Many people worked behind-the-scenes; thanks to the great attitudes of many folks, the ceremony was a great success.”

Naperville North Principal Kevin Pobst shared the sentiment.

“Huskies and Redhawks all pitched in and did what needs to be done, with a love for students and a commitment to putting our best foot forward,” Pobst said. “And they do it with a positive spirit and a healthy sense of humor.”

Behind-the-scenes work included moving a softball game to a different day, changing the start time of a volleyball game, and rearranging the sequence of graduates to allow some of the senior athletes to arrive late to the ceremony and still be included in the roll call.

On Wednesday, under clear skies, seniors at Naperville Central and Naperville North high schools joined the ranks of alumni after successful commencement ceremonies.

“Unfortunately weather didn’t cooperate Tuesday night,” said Kaine Osburn, deputy superintendent for Naperville District 203. “The principals, their leadership teams, and the assistant superintendent for secondary education monitored the weather forecast throughout the day. Based on published forecasts and their own deliberations, they thought prior to the start times that it was worthwhile to attempt to hold graduation.”

Holding an outdoor event of this magnitude can be tricky, and Osburn said several years ago, the district asked parent groups about their preferences for when and how to hold graduation ceremonies.

“They very clearly told us that they wanted to be outside at the schools,” Osburn said. “Certainly every year we revisit our operations and assess how well they worked — and weather is part of that — and so we would do that again this year. We are looking forward to a successful graduation at both the high schools.”

And according to many in attendance, it was a success.

“I know some people would rather have graduation inside, but I like it outside,” said Zelinski, who also graduated from Central in 1983. “It was a wonderful evening. These kids have accomplished a lot, and it was just a great night.”

Across town, 2014 Naperville North graduate Caroline Letzel agreed.

“It was very memorable for sure,” said Letzel, 18. “I think everyone was really excited and in a good mood, even with all the problems from the night before. Everyone enjoyed the moment.”

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