Marisela Lozada smiles as she walks to meet her family after graduating from Maynard Jackson High School at the Georgia World Congress Center on May 22, 2018. The center is not available for 2019 high school graduation ceremonies, causing school districts to have to search for other big venues. ALYSSA POINTER/ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION
Photo: Alyssa Pointer
Photo: Alyssa Pointer

Conventions replace commencements at Ga. World Congress Center

Comics and games are replacing caps and gowns this May at the Georgia World Congress Center.

More than 35 Atlanta, DeKalb and Fulton high schools who hosted graduation ceremonies at GWCC must relocate because the popular downtown site is booked with several large conventions during the commencement season.

The Citrix Synergy 2019 technology event and the comics, video game and anime gathering MomoCon are two of the biggest conventions scheduled smack-dab during the span when school districts hold graduations.

Atlanta Public Schools has rented the GWCC for the past four years for rehearsals and ceremonies.

With the GWCC unavailable this spring, Atlanta will move to the Georgia Institute of Technology’s McCamish Pavilion.

“We had been extensively researching and searching for a long time to find a venue large enough for all of our commencement services and rehearsals during the week of and leading up to graduation,” APS Superintendent Meria Carstarphen told board members this week. “We want our families to feel respected, and our graduates to be excited about the location of their graduation.”

The district tried in June to solicit bids from venues but received no responses.

APS reached out to Georgia Tech, and the school board agreed to pay up to $300,000 to rent the university’s basketball area. It was the only big venue in metro Atlanta available for the week of May 19, the district said.

The district spent $328,813, including a $58,500 rental fee for GWCC plus the cost of audio, video, camera, lighting, staging, food and other services to host graduation events this year.

“Overall, the understanding is that it will be cheaper for us to make this move,” said Atlanta spokesman Ian Smith.

Fulton County used GWCC this year for a few of its high school graduations at a cost of $50,197.

“There are several venues that will be used for the upcoming commencement ceremonies in May; Infinite Energy Arena and Verizon (Amphitheatre) are the two most common ones,” said Fulton spokeswoman Cierra Chuly Boyd.

In 2013, DeKalb moved all of its high school graduation ceremonies to secular venues, including the GWCC, amid concerns that using churches violated the separation of church and state.

All but one DeKalb high school held their ceremonies at the center this year. The district did not respond before a reporter’s deadline to questions about the cost of renting the facility.

A district spokesman said officials have not made a final decision about where to hold 2019 ceremonies.

GWCC officials are “hopeful” that the site will host future graduation ceremonies, said spokeswoman Jaleesa Fears.

“The Georgia World Congress Center Authority is partnering with the school districts to provide time for commencement planning, offer solutions, and build awareness around any future conflicts,” she said, in a written statement.

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