Absegami Graduation Concludes With Hail Storm

The ceremony was barely complete when hail began to fall. Two people were transported to the hospital with minor injuries.

GALLOWAY, N.J. - The Absegami High School Class of 2012 experienced a graduation like no other Thursday night, June 7.

The ceremony was barely complete when the gathered storm clouds, which threatened to unload on the graduation from the start, opened up.

First there was lightning. Then there was thunder. Then, there was rain, and finally hail. The remaining assembled spectators and graduates made a mad dash for their cars, under the bleachers, under school overhangs, and any other shelter that might be provided before administrators were able to open the doors to the school and let them in.

Reeds Road Elementary School was also opened, as was the Roland Rogers Elementary School gymnasium, although in the end, it wasn't needed. Galloway Police did a sweep of the school and the area to check on injuries, missing items and people reported missing.

According to Galloway Police Lt. Paul Dooner, whose son was among the graduates Thursday night, between eight and 10 injuries, mostly seizures and asthma were reported. Two people were transported to the hospital with minor injuries, according to Dooner.

The school was able to be cleared and the parking lots were empty around 8 p.m.

Project Graduation will go on as planned, according to Absegami Principal Dr. Jeri-Lynn Gatto.

"I've seen rain at graduations before," Gatto said. "I saw it coming. I knew it was going to rain. The hail was a bit of a surprise. That was not on the Weather Channel."

"It was definitely something to remember," Absegami graduate Anthony Chong said. "It's something we'll never forget."

"I knew it was going to rain," Absegami graduate Alex Barragan said. "The clouds looked like they were moving in a weird way."

The graduation began at 6 p.m. at the football stadium in front of a packed house of spectators with dark clouds approaching. The clouds stopped while Valedictorian Laura Petro and Salutatorian Danielle Smith delivered their speeches.

For a moment, it seemed as though the rain would hold off until the ceremonies ended. Administrators did their part, barely taking a breath between names and diplomas were conferred on the 437 graduates. Flashes of lightning appeared, and became more frequent as the administrators reached those with last names beginning with 'G.'

The more the thunder and lightning intensified, the quicker spectators began to file out. The announcement of a graduate's name became synonymous with spectators heading for the exit, graduates joining soon therafter.

As the storm began, one couldn't tell if the screams were directed at loved ones graduating or the thunder and lightning that appeared to be creeping ever closer.

All the names were called, and everyone received their diplomas. It was then a mad rush for the exits.

Groups of people attempted to outrace the thunder and lightning. Fear turned to disbelief as these same people began to be hit with hail.

While intense, the storm concluded quickly. Police combed the area looking for those who may have been hurt or lost, as well as missing items. The Galloway Police detail of eight officers expanded to at least 16.

Galloway EMTs, including Director of Galloway Township Ambulance Squad Michael Brandenburger, were available.

Ultimately, the storm ended, and friends and family members were able to reconnect.  While there was a sense that most escaped unharmed, some were still hit with a look of stunned disbelief.

It was a graduation like no other, and one that will not soon be forgotten.

Chuck L June 08, 2012 at 06:29 AM
‎"Flashes of lightning appeared, and became more frequent as the administrators reached those with last names beginning with 'G.'" - Did they stop the ceremony so everyone could reach shelter? No! How irresponsible are these administrators? In the middle of a HUGE open field with an obvious thunderstorm nearly on top of them and they did NOTHING! Allowing a large number of people to remain in a very dangerous situation is causing me to question the competency of these administrators. I'm just thankful it didn't turn into a tragedy!l
Dale June 08, 2012 at 07:23 AM
There are a number of things they could have done to make the event as complete as possible without remaining on the field as long as they did. This amounted to a lack of imagination at the very least. Gatto & company have some explaining to do (just as they did two years ago when they wouldn't let the valedictorian give her speech because it contained a small part about not being afraid to correct to bullies, cheaters, and students who distract and disrupt the education of others in the class).
Karen Jones June 08, 2012 at 11:52 AM
Luckily NO ONE was hurt but very scarry. My childs soccer game canceled due to weather as we sat in the car to see if it would pass we could see a swirl in the clouds and it was extremely unusual to the say the least. No way I was letting my child on the field at that time. I had many friends at the High School last night and I do believe that it should have been stopped and pulled into the high school when they saw the sky. Thank God fast talkers got the job done!
Jeffrey Barner June 08, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I was in the stands with my family and when the lightning started to hit about a mile away I said that it was time to at least get down from the stands. Unbelievably, there were people leaning up against the tall metal poles containing the field lights. When the lightning startd to hit less than one half mile away, my son and I went to our car and sat out the rest of the storm. I agree with other comments that the administrators put lives in danger, and it is only luck that nobody was seriously hurt or killed.
Samantha Siang June 08, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Once the wind direction changed abruptly, all bets were off. As Dan Skelton said last night on TV-40 weather, when you can see lightening and hear thunder, time to go to a safe place fast. That didn't happen last night and a lot of people were very lucky!
Anthony Bellano (Editor) June 08, 2012 at 04:56 PM
As far as the twister is concerned, there is no evidence that it ever touched down, at this point.
tintonfallsretiree June 08, 2012 at 10:22 PM
This is a prime example as to why the public schools are too imcompetant to teach our kids. They did nothing but recklessly endanger the lives of the students and their families. I guess that this is their way of saying thank you for using their school to educate their children. Overall, it's no wonder why private schools provide a better education than public schools.
Jimmy June 09, 2012 at 01:28 AM
I have never seen incompetence like this in my entire life. The principal and superintendant should be fired for failing to protect thousands of innocent people. They should never have even started the graduation with the storms so close. Worse yet you could see the winds shift and storm clouds approaching for several minutes before all hell broke loose. Wake up everyone--people almost died while "educated" school administrators stood by like nothing was happening.
tintonfallsretiree June 09, 2012 at 04:07 AM
S, There is a lot more "heat" on the school for them choosing to handle it this way. So therefore, there would have been very little "heat" if they moved it inside. Yes you are right no one was seriously injured but NO ONE should have been injured AT ALL from this. It clearly isn't over as this has just made it on national news.
Debbi B June 09, 2012 at 05:35 AM
My son was at this graduation taking photos of friends with my very expensive camera. When the storm hit, his first thought was to go inside the school to protect it from the hail. THEY TOLD HIM ONLY GRADUATING SENIORS COULD ENTER. He hunched over my camera and protected it from damage, while on the other side of the door, his graduating friends stood in safety. The camera's safety is minor compared to his. I still can't believe it took them 10 minutes to let him and others looking for refuge into the school. We were all lucky that there weren't more serious injuries.
Samantha Siang June 10, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Don't know who (THEY) are, but there were dozens of non-seniors, the elderly and young children inside the school when the rainstorm, hail, started to come down. Your comment is totally inaccurate.
Diogenes June 10, 2012 at 10:33 PM
How can you take one incident about a graduation ceremony and come to a universal conclusion about competence to teach and the quality of education in the schools? As a wise person once said, "Never make a general statement." You also seem pretty confident in interpreting people's motives ("this is their way of saying thank you"). And your assertion that "private schools provide a better education than public schools" is simply not factual and is not borne out by assessment results.
Diogenes June 10, 2012 at 10:51 PM
In retrospect, continuing the graduation ceremony does not appear to have been a good decision. Hindsight, as they say, always improves our judgement. However, think about this: What if the administrators stopped the ceremony at mid-point and told everyone that the ceremony was cancelled or postponed to another date? Would all of the parents and relatives there have thought it was a good decision and cheerfully and submissively complied? Especially those whose children had not yet received their diploma? What about grandparents and relatives who had traveled a distance to make the ceremony? Would they have agreed it was wise to to cancel the ceremony? Graduations are held outside in the first place to include as many relatives and family as possible. Would it be better to hold the graduation indoors, and give each graduate only two or three tickets? Have any of the critics posting here ever been responsible for planning and putting on such a graduation ceremony? Yes, in retrospect, it wasn't the best decision given the weather outcome; but have a little empathy, and don't condemn the administrators who were trying to accomodate the families. And personally, this is the first such hail/thunder/rainstorm I've seen in the decades that I've lived in South Jersey
Jeffrey Barner June 12, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Yes, there would have been a lot of unhappy people if they had postponed the ceremony, but it would not have been discussed on the national news.
tintonfallsretiree June 12, 2012 at 06:16 PM
diogenes, you are out of touch with reality about public schools. let me introduce some figures for you: 1. Absegami HS: 437 Graduates, $6.7 in scholarship money 2. Holy Spirit High School: 174 Graduates, $16.7 in scholarship money 3. St. Augustine Prep: 147 Graduates, $26.4 in scholarship money Well, what a quality education public schools provide compared to private schools huh diogenes? St. Augustine boasts the highest SAT scores in all of South Jersey. I think you are referring to the pathetic tests that only public schools use in nj. when both private and public take the same tests (which is rare) private schools score HIGHER THAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS. please show me the assessment scores to which you are referring. my comment was made from a collection of incidents at absegami, this one just exposed their incompetance once and for all. absegami is filled with incompetant and unqualified individuals who think they know it all. before you make another stupid remark read the article in my next comment.
tintonfallsretiree June 12, 2012 at 06:18 PM
"Students at Catholic schools generally boast better test scores and graduation rates than public schools." Source: Recent Fox News Article http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/06/09/catholic-schools-in-some-cities-show-signs-life-helped-by-voucher-program/
Diogenes June 12, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Diogenes June 12, 2012 at 10:51 PM
bostonfamn93: The Stanford University study shows that students from private charter schools do about the same as public school students. I would rather depend on Stanford U. research than a report carried on Fox "News"; even the Fox "News" report states "catholic schools in SOME cities"-hardly a universal claim for excellence over public schools. Comparing two tuition Catholic high schools (that use admission tests to screen out those who will not perform well academically) against one measure from one public school does not lead to the general conclusion that private schols more effective than public schools. Public schools cannot select their students and must take all comers. Your conclusion defies logic. You also resort to demeaning disrespect, i.e. "before you make another stupid remark", which marks you as the type of person that hides behind internet anonymity to launch personal attacks when they their argument stands on illogic and real statistical facts. And your implication that I am "out of touch with reality about public schools" (or private schools, for that matter) is also a wildly erroneous assumption on your part. How you can take a weather related decision about graduation and leap into a contemptious diatribe based on incomplete "facts" is mystifying, but not unexpected, given the depth of your logic in making your accusations.
Diogenes June 12, 2012 at 10:57 PM
I most sincerely apologize...for the typos
tintonfallsretiree June 13, 2012 at 01:17 AM
"Public schools cannot select their students and must take all comers." That is the usual pathetic excuse that public school supporters use. Private schools get NO tax dollars and pay for EVERYTHING on their own. Unlike public schools that use up 66% of a tax bill and continuously whine that it's not enough. I can list every public school in the county for you and show how low their figures are compared to private. But that won't do any good with you because you clearly keep fighting the truth which is that PRIVATE IS BETTER than public and always will be! I'm sorry that my tax dollars along with me paying for private tuition isn't good enough to improve your lacking schools. I'm sorry that I got off my ass and paid for my kids to have a 10x better education. If my arguments lack logic then your's must lack logic as well as you are making the same argument as me from a different standpoint. you can't even read an article correctly. I asked for the test scores that you claim provide how public is better but you can't even do that. I wonder why??? You are complaining about my remarks when you are doing the same thing. Also take note that I wasn't the only person to say that they were completely incompetent for how they handled this. If you look above at Jimmy's remark, it pretty much matches mine. Overall it's pretty clear that we have a great difference of opinion. I ask that you recognize and respect mine in return for me doing the same. Thank You
galloway7757 June 13, 2012 at 01:41 AM
Diogenes, Just please stop commenting. You say that bostonfan93 defies logic but is using his conclusions based from his logic. What kind of sense does that make!? I also don't see in the linked fox news article where it says "some catholic schools" other than in the headline where it refers to the fact that enrollment is increasing in some cities. The article flat out states that "Students at catholic schools generally boast higher test scores and graduation rates than public schools". You clearly didn't see that. I 100% agree with bostonfan93 and his remarks on the incompetence of public school educators. I also agree with him that private is better than public. Your responses to him are nothing but contradictory commentary. So just please respect his views as he has offered to respect yours.
Diogenes June 14, 2012 at 05:34 PM
OK, 7757, I'll stop commenting on this thread, but I leave you with this information from the report by Stanford University's Center for Research on Education Outcomes. The Report is titled "Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States", which is "the first detailed national assessment of charter school impacts" and is a longitudinal study that "covers more than 70 percent of the nations' students attending charter schools". The study found that 17% of charter schools showed academic gains significantly better than public schools; 37% of charters had worse gains than pubic schools, and 46% of charters had demonstrated "no significant difference" in achievement than public schools. These are the facts. Make up your own mind, but please consider the facts.
galloway7757 June 14, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Diogenes, You are a such an idiot. A private school is not the same as a charter school. A charter school receives public funding. A private school (such as catholic) does not receive ANY public funding. Every privately educated person would know that while a publicly educated person wouldn't.
tintonfallsretiree June 14, 2012 at 07:01 PM
Diogenes, This is from the Merriam Webster Dictionary: Charter School: a tax-supported school established by a charter between a granting body (as a school board) and an outside group (as of teachers and parents) which operates the school without most local and state educational regulations so as to achieve set goals. Private School: school that is established, conducted, and primarily supported by a nongovernmental agency. (WITHOUT TAX SUPPORT) I guess that this is not what the public schools teach their students. A great sign of why they are too incompetent to teach our kids.


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