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Simmons Says - Open up graduation

When I started getting invites to sign a local graduation petition, I was perplexed. I didn’t understand why I needed to sign something to open up graduation; I just assumed it was already going to be open to the public.

Obviously, now I know that there are many parents, grandparents, family friends and – most notably – students who are very angry that are still limits (six per student) being placed on attendance for this year’s graduation. I can’t say that I blame them.

I’ll be very honest – I don’t plan on attending graduation. I didn’t even really want to go to my own, especially the college one at 8 a.m. on a Saturday after a night of celebrating school ending. The only time I have been at graduation lately is when I was taking photos for work and, even then, I usually would show up early, get shots on the track and bounce before they announced the first name.

So when it comes to the attendance argument, I really don’t have a dog in the fight. It doesn’t affect me either way. For the people it does, I say I stand on the side of those wanting it to be opened up.

I had been thinking about it for about a week since seeing the online petition, but it really didn’t hit home to me until Friday when I was at a baseball game. After talking to a ton of fans at the game and doing my interviews, I was about to leave.

I doubled back at the last minute when I saw a few student-athletes who I wanted to congratulate for their recent accomplishments. As we talked, one student asked – or really, pleaded – to me, “would you please write something about graduation? They have to open it up.”

It hurt to see how much they were upset about the attendance limitation, which will keep a lot of family and friends from seeing their big day. I assured them that I would fight for their cause the only way I know how – by cranking out a Simmons Says.

Here’s the thing – I’m at events every night and I’m not seeing people bothered or concerned by packing in stands to watch games. People want to be outside. Just last weekend, I attended a local concert and there were probably 1,000 people who came in and out that night.

Guess what? It was awesome! I really enjoyed seeing so many people out and about having fun.

Not once did I think about COVID – the thing that has hung over our heads for over a year. Honestly, I’m tired of it being the Boogeyman, the thing used to scare us back indoors. I’m tired of having a Governor telling us that Tennessee is opened, then businesses and other places saying that’s not the case.

And yes, I know this is going to irritate people. There are many people who are going to say, “You should take this seriously.” Or remind me the number of people who have died – including, likely, somebody close to them.

I get it. And I’m sorry for all the losses. I’m willing to bet that we all, myself included, have lost somebody in the last year. And it really, really sucks.

More so, I’m probably one of the people who should take it very seriously. I have high blood pressure and – by any measure, including my scale at home – I’m overweight. Those would put me in the high-risk zone for COVID. I understand those things. I'm aware of my health and the concerns – and I can still say that I’m more than willing to let normalcy return to Warren County.

LINK to the Petition being circulated to open Graduation

At some point, when can we go “back to normal?” What more do people need to know before we can return to having gatherings?

I think some believe nothing should happen until COVID is fully eradicated. Others may only get back to life as we used to know it when Dr. Anthony Fauci lifts his multiple masks and says, “It’s OK.”

Me personally, I think we’ve gotten to the point where people can access their own health, make their own choices and feel pretty confident they’ll be safe – even in large crowds.

Here’s why I feel like it’s OK to open up graduation: We have all the alternatives you could ask for now.

1. There is a vaccine. And last I checked, it is open to everybody. If you’re worried about COVID, make sure to get your shot (or two) and lessen your chances of it being able to affect your life.

2. Masks are still being sold daily. If you want to wear a mask, go ahead. I still have mine and I put it on every where that I’m still required.

3. There’s no shame in staying home. If there is a concern about getting sick by being at a large group event, then stay home. I’m willing to bet that Joe Harvey and the tremendous WCS-TV crew will be at graduation. The ceremony will be on click away on YouTube.

Another reason why I think it should be opened: I think that’s what the kids – you know, the people we’re trying to honor – want. They are the ones really pushing to open up the crowd.

One of the greatest lines I’ve ever heard from an adult supervisor was when there were multiple teachers and administrators debating a topic that would concern the well-being and interest of students. After all of the adults made their cases as to “what was going to be best for the kids,” a final voice came out and said, “Hey, did anybody think to ask the kids?”

Boom. Mic Drop.

I wonder how much input, if any, school administrators got from the kids about THEIR graduation. It’s not my graduation. It’s not our teachers’ graduation. It is the Class of 2021’s graduation – they probably should be able to voice their concerns and have some say in how things go.

If they want their full families to be able to attend, then maybe they should get want they want.

If they want to sit side-by-side, then maybe they should.

If they want to bring beach balls and toss them around, then maybe they should.

If they want to have blow-up dolls --- well, OK. Maybe we draw the line somewhere.

In looking at the numbers supplied online by The New York Times (and let’s just agree these are accurate for reporting, since they’re the most widely available figures), Tennessee has lowered its seven-day average of cases to under 800 in the last week.

The last time our state averaged under 800 cases in seven days was last June, when COVID was just making its presence felt in our area.

Narrowing the scope even more, Warren County reported just nine new COVID cases between May 3-7. The week before, it was 11 new cases. Right now, we’re averaging around 1.3 new cases a day.

Governor Bill Lee has said there won't be any more mandates and if any still exist, they'll expire soon. The 1/3 capacity rule which has governed sports - and, now, big events - this year won't be around much longer - the TSSAA has followed behind Lee's suggestion at every turn since last fall.

The argument will be that when you have an event of this magnitude – or “Super Spreader,” as many in the media have used as a scare tactic – it is inevitable that the numbers will spike again. If that’s the case, then why are numbers in places that are opened back up not on the rise?

The Texas Rangers opened their park to 100 percent capacity back in April, drawing harsh critics for their chances of spreading COVID everywhere. In the last month, Texas has only seen its numbers fall even further.

Same for Florida after it held a max-capacity indoor UFC event recently.

There are already plenty of teams, including many SEC football schools, that are saying their gigantic stadiums will be 100 percent open this fall. I’m willing to bet, as long as the TSSAA lifts its restrictions, Nunley Stadium will be completely up and running by the time DeKalb County visits in August.

If it can open in August, it can open in a few weeks.

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