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Quaker Valley graduation to move from Robert Morris University to Soldiers & Sailors hall in Pittsburgh

| Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, 11:00 p.m.

The Class of 2018 at Quaker Valley High School will graduate under a hand-printed canvas of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address inside the historic Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland.

“It's beautiful. I think people are going to be amazed,” said Andrew Surloff, assistant superintendent in the Quaker Valley School District.

District leaders were forced to find a new place for commencement ceremonies after the district's longtime venue, Robert Morris University's Charles L. Sewall Center, is in the midst of a major construction project to make way for a new event center at the Moon school. Robert Morris University is building a new, $50 million, 140,000-square-foot UPMC Event Center, set to open in 2019.

Quaker Valley students have graduated at the Sewall Center since 2004.

Graduation ceremonies at the district's Chuck Knox Stadium in Leetsdale were “tricky,” Surloff said. The weather didn't always cooperate and, at times, trains would pass by disrupt the ceremony.

When it rained, the ceremony was moved indoors to the school's gymnasium or auditorium. Tickets were given out for students to bring a select number of family or friends and the limited parking at Quaker Valley High School at times was an issue, he said.

On average, about 160 students graduate from Quaker Valley each year.

Using Robert Morris' facilities, located about 10 minutes from Quaker Valley High School, with more than 3,000 seats, eliminated those problems.

“It was just a very good venue for it,” Surloff said.

With construction at Robert Morris, Quaker Valley leaders searched for a site that offered similar amenities, including a place for students to prepare for the ceremony, enough seating for guests and somewhere within about 30 minutes of Quaker Valley High School.

They also sought out a facility that was “secular in nature,” in an effort to ensure all attendees feel comfortable at the ceremony, no matter their religious beliefs.

A survey was conducted of the senior class to get their opinions on what type of facility they would like for the commencement ceremony. About 90 percent of the senior class said they didn't want their final memories from Quaker Valley High School to occur at a neighboring school's facilities, Surloff said.

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall, with more than 2,300 seats, has hosted commencement ceremonies for other high schools in the area including Fox Chapel Area.

The site offers many of the amenities the school district utilized at Robert Morris, Surloff said.

The $4,000 cost for the ceremony to be held at Soldiers & Sailors was similar to the rate paid for Robert Morris' facilities, he said.

Surloff said district leaders also liked that Soldiers & Sailors is along a Port Authority bus route, which provides another method of transportation for family and friends to attend the ceremony.

The district is considering making a bus available for students to get to the site.

“Anytime you make a change, you have to think about those things,” he said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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