BCHS senior presents appeal for graduation festivity change, administration looking into options

One of the many end of year traditions Barren County High School seniors have waited on throughout their high school careers is to release balloons together on the last day of school following senior breakfast. Well, at least for some. One BCHS student has taken a different outlook on this end of the year-end event.

Laurel Mayes, senior, brought an appeal before students and staff earlier this week entitled “Appeal to Cancel Balloon Release Scheduled for BCHS Graduation on May 20th (sic), 2019.” In the appeal, Mayes requests that administration cancel the release due to its “numerous threats to wildlife in our area.” Mayes also asserts “the practice is, by all definitions, littering.” Several signed the appeal including students Trevor Moore, Charles Massey, James Johnson and Kaylan Heath, along with staff Ashley Moore, Scott Walker and Rosemarie Grice.

Mayes describes herself as someone who is “environmentally conscience.” She said, for example, she tries to recycle at home as much as she can. According to Mayes, she felt like her personal beliefs aligned with the school’s.

“I do believe that our school has made several efforts throughout the year, including switching to real plates, real silverware and real cups in order to reduce the waste that is produced here,” Mayes said. “I believe this not only relates to my personal beliefs and goals but also to the school’s goals for the year.”

When Mayes originally thought of seeking another option beside a balloon release, she said she wanted to know what students thought. Mayes’ original plan only consisted of bringing awareness to this topic, she said. After thinking about the effects she had researched, Mayes decided to survey students and staff.

Mayes created a Twitter poll asking whether students were in support of continuing with a balloon release or not. According to the poll, “Balloon releases are considered littering (and illegal) in Louisville and in many surrounding states and countries. They harm and kill wildlife and farm animals.” On the poll, Mayes asked “…do you think BCHS should have a balloon release ceremony after senior breakfast on May 20th?”

The responses from students and “anonymous” Twitter accounts varied. Some reactions were hostile, referencing “liberal” political motives, while some reactions were frank, calling the idea “dumb.”

“I believe this a non-partisan issue entirely. In fact, two of my four student sponsors that I have right now are conservative politically,” Mayes said.

One of those is Charles Massey, senior, who said the reactions are not genuine.

“People are only attacking her idea because they don’t like change,” Massey said.

According to Massey, he signed the appeal because of personal experiences with waste.

“I care about the environment,” Massey said. “I’ve had to pick them up from my property and from along the road near my property.”

Not all comments were aggressive. Some detailed why they felt the need for a balloon release.

“This has been a tradition for years,” Chelsea Smith, senior, tweeted. “Almost everyone wants it.”

Grice said she feels the tradition has meaning and is of importance to seniors, but the use of a potentially environmentally harmful material is an issue.

“If we’re just doing it for tradition’s sake, maybe we need to reevaluate what we’re doing,” Grice said. “Maybe it’s time to create a new tradition.”

Creating a new tradition represents the “forward and compassionate” thinking of this class, Grice said. According to Grice, this movement would potentially “reinforce the fact of who we [Barren County High School] are.”

Emily Pedigo, a senior, tweeted, “I believe the balloon release is used on the last day of school as a symbolic moment to show the transition of seniors from their current status to their new steps of life.”

According to the final results of the poll, 72 percent of voters are in favor of the balloon release, while 26 percent opposed. Two percent voted “undecided.” 281 accounts voted on Twitter. Mayes also created a Facebook poll which showed similar results. 68 percent are in favor of the balloon release and 32 percent are opposed. The Facebook poll has 240 votes.

Several students also shared their opinions with the Trojan Times. In fact, a lot of students did not know about the appeal and what it stated.

“I see where they’re coming from, and I understand the reason behind it but this just something I’ve looked forward to since freshman year,” Annabelle Botts, senior, said. “I didn’t know they were going to have alternates, so with that, if they found something just as fun, I would be okay with that.”

Trey Carver, senior, said the use of balloons is similar to drinking water.

“I just don’t feel like it’s as big an issue as it’s being made out to be,” Carver said. “I mean too much fluoride will kill you, but we still put it in our drinking water.”

James Johnson, senior, said he signed the appeal because he feels the results of the balloons could cause more damage than intended.

“I think we need a more environmentally safer way to celebrate,” Johnson said. “By the time you realize the harm, it’s too late.”

Mayes met with Brad Johnson, principal, and Letitia Hughes, assistant principal, to present her ideas and research.

Following the meeting, Mayes told the Trojan Times, “The response that I got was that they considered it and would be open to the idea of doing biodegradable balloons.”

Mayes said that was the idea they seemed to agree with most. However, she said they were also in favor of possibly planting a “class tree,” another alternative Mayes proposed.

Mayes has been tasked with researching the cost of biodegradable balloons for the administrators. She plans to meet with the administration again next week.

Mayes mentioned she has spoken with Ellen Blevins, the senior sponsor in charge of the balloon release, who said she has looked for biodegradable balloons but cannot find them in burgundy and gold, the desired color of the balloons for the class.

According to BCHS administration, the final decision is that a balloon release will still occur, but that is not to say that it will be latex or non-biodegradable balloons. The administration is seeking an option to purchase environmentally-friendly balloons. At this time, if only latex or rubber balloons can be purchased for the release, it is understood that the administration would allow students in opposition to pursue an environmentally-friendly option.

“My hope would be that this would be the continuation of Barren County High School being more conscientious of environmental issues.”

Mayes said she was open to any ideas that students may have as alternatives.

“We are starting a new tradition, not so much stopping an old tradition,” Mayes said. “I want to leave a legacy of our class leading the future in being conscience of the environment.”

The Trojan Times will continue to bring coverage of the appeal process as more information is made available.

Brennan Crain and Grace Lowe made contributions to this story.