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No DVD memories for Pasco grads as recordings go awry

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— It was a special moment and Donna Messing wanted it recorded on DVD.

Her daughter, Leah Melquist, was senior class president for Zephyrhills High, earning her a spot as a speaker at the high school’s commencement ceremony nearly four weeks ago at the University of South Florida Sun Dome.

Messing had her video camera at the ready. Then she noticed the professional looking camera crew, a reminder that the Sun Dome was recording the affair and Zephyrhills High had been taking pre-orders from parents who wanted a copy of the DVD that would result.

“I thought they would do a better job and I could sit back and relax,” Messing said.

Something went awry, though. Although the camera crew transmitted live images to the Jumbotron during the ceremony, nothing was recorded. The same thing happened at ceremonies for three other highs schools from Pasco County where parents had pre-ordered DVDs.

“Each of those schools is disappointed,” said Ray Bonti, the Pasco school district’s executive director for support services.

Trent Merritt, general manager of the Sun Dome, sent a letter of apology to the school district June 17, and the district shared that with the unhappy parents.

“We accept full responsibility for the mistake and I assure you we are taking the necessary steps to prevent this from happening in the future,” Merritt wrote.

He also said the schools would receive a discount on the cost of the video crew.

It’s not a total refund, Bonti said, because the USF crew provided other services, such as running the Jumbotron during the ceremonies and handling the audio with the microphones.

Bonti said it’s not completely clear why the cameras failed to record. Merritt could not be reached for comment.

Pasco County has 13 public high schools, eight of which hold their graduation ceremonies at the Sun Dome. Just four of those — Zephyrhills, Fivay, J.W. Mitchell and Wesley Chapel — offered the graduation DVD for sale to parents, Bonti said, and about 150 parents pre-ordered one. They get refunds.

“I certainly empathize with the parents,” Bonti said. “We all do.”

Messing is just frustrated at this point.

“The ironic thing is, my ex-husband is a videographer,” she said. “He goes around videotaping other schools’ graduations and we don’t have one.”

Since news of the DVD debacle has spread, parents and students who recorded at least snippets of the Zephyrhills graduation are banding together. Messing said her ex-husband, Troy Melquist, will try to edit those clips together.

“It wasn’t a total wash,” she said. “At least we’re going to have something.”

Despite the problem, Bonti said Pasco schools and parents are generally pleased with the Sun Dome and graduations will continue there. He said another school, Hudson High, plans to hold its commencement at USF next year.

“We’ve basically been very satisfied in the past,” he said. “We certainly expect this will not happen again.”

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