Newer tradition of graduation on Bearden’s football field starts to take roots


Bearden’s 2022 graduation was the third at the football field. This year’s May 31 at 6 p.m. will mark year four.

Ever since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bearden’s graduation has taken place on the BHS football field, meaning that the last time it was at UT’s Thompson-Boling Arena, this year’s graduating class was still in middle school.

The 2023 graduation, which will take place at 6 p.m. on May 31, will mark only the fourth year of the new location, but on-campus graduations have already become the new normal.

Senior assistant principal Mr. Donald Balcom has been involved in the process at both locations.

“I think the kids enjoy having it here,” Mr. Balcom said. “Even though they have graduated, they come back and it’s a last hoorah on the field. It’s familiar, and easier to get to than Thompson-Boling and Downtown Knoxville.”

With graduation taking place Bearden, many seniors are grateful for the opportunity to find closure on this chapter of their lives. Many Bearden students attended previous graduations before the location was switched, and the sentimental value of graduating on the same campus that they have spent the past four years does not go unnoticed.

“It’s great to be at UT; it’s [an arena], so when the parents blow an air horn you can really hear it,” said senior Noah Karnowski, who attended his older sister Eva’s graduation in 2019. “But I honestly prefer to graduate at my school, just because I know it better.”

However, other changes are still considered when reflecting on previous graduations. At Thompson-Boling Arena, Bearden was lucky enough to have preparations, setup, and breakdown all led by Thompson-Boling staff. These factors are now one of the only major drawbacks to hosting the graduation at BHS.

“Bearden staff has to organize a lot of things,” Mr. Balcom said. “In the previous two years, [we] set up all the chairs. Fortunately this year, All Occasions is going to set it up for us.”

Other tasks are focused on the planning and logistics around the ceremony itself.

“I think the graduation practice is more intensive here than it was at Thompson-Boling,” Mr. Balcom said. “To get all of the chairs, the podium, and everything set up on the football field, and for it to still look good on the TV, we had to have [band teachers] Mr. [Jamie] Wilson and Mrs. [Megan] Christian run it through the band program.”

Another factor that impacts graduation day is the weather. With graduations on the football field in the beginning of summer, the event can become hot, for students and families.

“I think the main problem is that I’m wearing a suit under my gown,” Karnowski said. “To anyone that’s wearing a suit, it gets hot.”

The first Bearden football field graduation was the year of the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought other limitations, including the number of guests that were allowed to attend. 

“When they first changed it to the field, they had a six-person limit, and even then, I remember sitting in the stands and being quite cramped,” senior class president Ranya Joshi said.

Mr. Balcom said the stadium holds about 5,000 people, a number which includes areas for guests to stand. This year, administrators expect near full capacity of the stadium, especially considering that there is no longer a limit to the number of guests people can bring.

As students prepare for the next steps, regardless of what their future holds, they have the opportunity to say their goodbyes to their school, their teachers, and their classmates one last time. 

“I think our graduation is a parallel to our time in high school,” said Joshi, who will speak at graduation. “Now it’s like we’re walking across home territory one last time, so that we can go walk across a bigger field in a bigger world.”