Compass: Sullivan Arena is an embarrassment at graduation

Erik Hill

Our family has enjoyed a rich experience this school year hosting our AFS exchange student, Nora, from Sweden. Nora graduated with the Dimond High School Class of 2014 last night at the Sullivan Arena. The love and respect in the Dimond school community has always been impressive and it did not disappoint last night as, under Ms. Guyette's guidance, graduates were honored in a fun and personable way. The speeches were thoughtful; the music by the band, orchestra and choirs was excellent. The kids were beautiful and glowing with the light shining of new horizons.

The one overriding element that was exceedingly not excellent was the venue. The aging and dilapidated Sullivan Arena facility may work fine for raucous sporting events but is not a venue befitting the pomp and circumstance of a formal ceremony.

When you enter the Sullivan Arena, almost every surface screams "in need of maintenance," from chipped paint and cracked concrete to loose railings. The few places I found a railing, it was not well-attached and wobbled. The whole facility looks dowdy and old.

That makes me wonder about the working condition of safety systems required by code. The sound system has been improved over the years, thank goodness, so it is possible to discern actual words that speakers actually say but the incessant echo in this cavernous space is such a detractor that I experience a stress response after a period of time trying to listen.

This is the best we can do in our town to honor graduating high school seniors? I know the graduation venue has to be a facility that can hold lots of people but don't we have other places that fit this bill?

Each graduate was instructed to wear nice clothes and most in the audience were very nicely dressed for the occasion; however, the facility, despite all the maroon-and-gold decorations, looked like a sad country bumpkin -- it had barely thrown on some old jeans and holey sneakers. The bare-wood floorboards, providing cover for whatever was underneath, are probably functional but oh, so ugly. The lit scoreboards (I don't know why they had to be lit for this occasion) and commercial advertisements didn't fit this solemn time.

Most scary was watching older attendees, probably grandparents, in their Sunday best trying to navigate their way down the treacherous stairs -- no handrails -- in the arena. I prayed that they wouldn't lose their footing or misjudge the smaller-than-normal steps in a mix of aluminum and concrete.

As I greeted the graduates on the crowded floor after the ceremony, my eyes met with another exchange student's parents just in from Sweden for the graduation. I was embarrassed they came all the way from Sweden just to experience the ugly echo and disrepair at this facility.

So I guess I have two points:

1. The Sullivan Arena needs serious maintenance attention soon and actually would greatly benefit from a major overhaul to be brought up to standards we expect of other municipal facilities and school buildings.

2. Let's not hold another year's series of high school graduations in the Sullivan Arena. Let's put our heads together and figure out a fitting venue we can be proud of for future formal Municipality of Anchorage High School graduation ceremonies ... somewhere "Pomp and Circumstance" isn't out of place.

Suzanne Little's family hosted a Swedish exchange student in Anchorage this past school year.