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Graduation ceremony brightened by projection and lighting

United Visual Rentals helps make graduation at Rolling Meadows High School a better experience for families and students

Projection of graduating senior's photos at Rolling Meadows, Illinois High SchoolThe music swells, a hundred flashes light the room and proud parents crane their necks to see their sons and daughters march down the aisle. It's graduation day at Rolling Meadows High School in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, a major milestone in the lives of these young people. And again this year United Visual rental staff will help Rolling Meadows personnel work to make the day a special one.

No matter how many graduations have gone before, each ceremony is unique and no less important than the previous. Planners want this day to be enjoyable and dignified. That's not always easy when you have as many as 2,300 graduates and relatives in the gym and another 400 or so in the school theater, open for overflow crowds. "In the past we've had people running up to the stage to take pictures or crowding the aisle with video cameras, and that can be very disruptive," says Paul McDonough, Rolling Meadows media director. "We also had a lot of people leaving in the middle. Once their son or daughter got their diploma they would just get up and leave. We finally decided that was because they couldn't see what was going on."


Large-screen projection

Video projection at the Rolling Meadows graduation ceremonyTo solve that problem, the school started experimenting with a big screen image above the stage. But McDonough says that as they solved one problem, they created others. Their first try they found they didn't own a projector bright enough to overcome the lights in the gymnasium. Turning the house lights off necessitated the use of stage lighting, but here again they couldn't seem to position lights without washing out the projected image. They even tried enclosing the space between the projector and the screen to keep the stage light out. "It was just a disaster," says McDonough "The cloth was too heavy and it bent the frame and blocked part of the image."

That's when McDonough turned to United Visual's Bob Clark-the proud parent of more than one Rolling Meadows graduate. The first thing Clark did was to provide an ultra-bright Panasonic projector. (He likes the Panasonic for its brightness, its interchangeable lenses, and its dual-lamp reliability.) He hung the projector from a lighting truss along with two dozen lights from United's rental stock, then hoisted it all high above the stage. With proper positioning of the lights and the right projector, the problems with the big screen images disappeared.

Live video plus senior pictures
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For the past several years, the local cable TV company has recorded the graduation ceremonies at Rolling Meadows High School for later broadcast, and they provided Clark a feed so he could project large screen images of the various speakers. (McDonough says they record, edit and broadcast the program at no charge to the school district-nice exposure for the school and an easy way for parents to record a videotape of the ceremony.) The high school also created a PowerPoint presentation with the graduates' names and senior photos, which Clark projected as each crossed the stage to receive a diploma. McDonough says that added a nice personal touch to the occasion, as well as providing a close-up view for those sitting in the back or outside the gymnasium. (Clark ran the signals into the school's video distribution system, so that people with special needs and the overflow audience could watch from the theater.)

All of these changes have greatly helped reach the high school's goal of more dignity and less disruption at this special occasion. Best of all, McDonough says, most people now stay for the whole ceremony. No matter where they might sit, they are in touch with what's happening on stage.

There's no question who will provide next year's projection and lighting. "Bob's amazing," says McDonough. "He's already talking about some improvements! But he's done such a nice job, I don't think we'll have to start planning until April." Bob Clark has more than one reason to make sure June's graduation celebration is a visual masterpiece. One of his own children will be wearing the purple cap and gown again this year.