SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

May 11, 2013

Safety stepped up at North Shore schools

Officials give extra thought to graduation security

By Bethany Bray
STAFF WRITER

---- — With the Boston Marathon bombings fresh in everyone’s mind, officials at local colleges and high schools are having extra discussions about security as they plan spring graduation events.

Numerous North Shore schools say they may do random searches of attendees’ bags, and backpacks will not be allowed at all at one local graduation.

Graduations at colleges and high schools across the North Shore begin this weekend and are scheduled through June.

Salem State University is expecting thousands for undergraduate and graduate commencement services and activities next week. The capacity of the O’Keefe Center, where ceremonies will be held, is 3,400.

Gene Labonte, chief of SSU campus police, declined to talk about specifics of his security plan but said bags brought into graduation will be subject to inspection. The university has the right to refuse admission to attendees who refuse a search, he said.

“We do discourage people from bringing any large parcels or bags,” Labonte said. “...We are cognizant of recent events and we are putting proper measures in place to ensure the safety of our graduates, students, their families and guests.”

With graduation still a month away, Salem High School Principal David Angeramo said security planning is in the early stages this week. However, SHS always has a police presence at graduation, he noted.

Gordon College will have uniformed campus police officers visible at graduation on May 18, said Rick Sweeney, vice president for marketing and strategic communications.

Campus police have always been involved with Gordon’s graduation, but this year they’ll be among the crowd at the ceremony to monitor proceedings and be “a visible sign” of security, he said.

Officials at the Wenham college are looking to strike a balance, he said, between increasing security and keeping commencement an enjoyable, happy affair.

“We’re not taking anything for granted, in the current environment,” said Sweeney. “We’re going to take a look at everything and see what additional measures make sense. ... Safety is a top consideration.”

At Endicott College in Beverly, there are no major changes to graduation plans, but staff and campus police at the event will have a heightened sense of awareness, said Joanne Waldner, assistant to President Richard Wylie. As in past years, Beverly police will be at Endicott’s graduation, she said.

“There will be a lot of eyes around,” Waldner said. “We will all be aware and watching what will be going on around us.”

Endicott’s graduation on May 24 is not open to the public; attendees must have tickets, and the college reserves the right to inspect backpacks or parcels, Waldner said.

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary will hold commencement ceremonies at Gordon College today.

Michael Colaneri, director of communications, declined to discuss specifics but said the school is putting an “extra effort” into safety this year.

Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.