Graduation ceremony finally happens, 50 years later

The packed graduation stadium
[Sterling Crim]

Fifty years after a tornado warning led to the abrupt cancellation of a high school graduation for students in Moore, Oklahoma, the class of 1974 has finally walked across stage to receive diplomas.

On Saturday, the graduates got their moment to wear blue caps and gowns and celebrate the academic achievements of their youth.

The event 50 years ago was never rescheduled, and for years the class of 500 pupils had discussed the idea of holding a formal graduation ceremony for themselves.

"Our grandchildren are gonna see us graduate,” one man eagerly told The Oklahoman newspaper ahead of the event.

On 23 May, 1974, the high school seniors had just taken their seats in a football stadium under darkening skies when a school administrator came to the microphone to advise people to urgently seek shelter.

“Maybe one song, maybe one speech, and then the superintendent gets up and says you graduated, you’re done,” Mike Wilson, a local sports announcer who helped lead the effort to reschedule the event, told TV station KOCO-TV.

Rains soaked the students in their formal attire as they hid under bleachers and drove away from the school to find safety.

A school trip planned for the following day meant that the event couldn't be moved, and graduates were instead told to unceremoniously pick up their diplomas from the gymnasium before the school year ended.

Moore High School Principal Rachel Stark, a 1988 graduate, told The Oklahoman that she was glad to have helped arrange for the belated ceremony.

“It’s very unique,” Ms Stark said. “I’ve never heard of it before. They’re still a part of our community... so we’re gonna do it for them.”

On Saturday, around 200 graduates formally recieved their diplomas. The weather was sunny and warm, with only a slight chance of storms.

Family members of 1974 class members who had died were encouraged to walk across the stage on behalf of the late graduates.

A cap with the words 'Just took 50 years'
'Just took 50 years' one graduate's cap reads [Sterling Crim]

Class President Bob Baker gave a modified version of the speech he had planned for a half-century ago, and the two valedictorians, Phyllis Clark and Lloyd White, also spoke, graduate Sterling Crim told the BBC.

The event took place after the school hosted a belated ceremony for another students whose own commencement events were delayed, those who graduated at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the New York Times.

“The older you get, you just look back and think you’ve missed out on something,” Mr Wilson told the newspaper.

No tornado ever touched down in Moore that day, but the city has been hit by other deadly storms.

In 1999, a tornado with winds over 300mph struck Moore, killing 36 people.

Another tornado outside Moore in 2013 left 91 people dead.