Technical difficulties with the Pine Bluff Convention Center’s sound system dampened The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff’s graduation ceremony Saturday for many in attendance. Audience members said they had trouble hearing all of the speakers, including the keynote address given by actress Phylicia Rashad.

Pine Bluff Convention Center Deputy Director Marty Huddleston worked at the UAPB graduation ceremony and heard the audio problems immediately. Huddleston and his colleagues began trouble-shooting behind the scenes in an effort to fix the problem.

“We were in the middle of the graduation when the problem started,” Huddleston said. “Obviously, we could not stop the graduation. My tech guy was in the process of trying to figure out what was going on. My tech director was trouble-shooting the whole system. It has been a very long time since we had trouble like this. Technical problems do happen, occasionally.”

The problem was audio feedback caused by the placement of the speakers, he said. Asked if he could have stopped the program, Huddleston said he did not have authority to stop the program and did not know at the time the cause of the problem. Huddleston said he worked the rest of the weekend to trouble-shoot. He explained that they could not stop the ceremony and could not estimate how much time they would have needed to identify the problem and correct it.

Pine Bluff Convention Center interim Executive Director Sheri Storie heard about the problems on Sunday. She did not attend the ceremony. She said her employees conducted a rehearsal on Thursday, May 11, including a sound-check, and did not have problems with audio or other technical matters.

“We were responsible for the sound,” Storie said. “We are aware there were issues and we are working toward fixing those issues. We want to make sure every event is successful. That is why we are looking at ways to improve the sound for the next event. We do take this very seriously.”

One of her staff members is writing a report about the problems with the audio, Storie said. The Pine Bluff Commercial was contacted by people who attended the UAPB graduation but did not hear the speakers.

Shelia Frye said that it “was truly an honor to have (Rashad) speak the UAPB 2017 commencement ceremony, but it would have been even more endearing if we could of heard and understood what she was saying,” Frye wrote in the Commercial’s Facebook page. “(Through no fault of her own, might I add). The sound system at the convention center was HORRIBLE! Actually, we couldn’t understand or hear hardly a word anyone was saying. I couldn’t even hear my daughter’s name being called. It was disappointing to not be able to hear because of bad sound system.”

Huddleston and Storie are confident that they will have functioning audio equipment by Tuesday, May 16. The convention center area will host three graduations this week: Watson Chapel High School at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16; White Hall High School at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 18; and Pine Bluff High School at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 19. The convention center will also host other events on Wednesday, May 17, and Friday, May 19, elsewhere in the convention center.

“They will all use the sound system in different parts of the building,” Storie said. “We need to figure out exactly what happened, how to resolve those issues, so that the next event we can be sure we take care of it and not run into the same problem.”

Huddleston concurred with the aforementioned statement.

Southeast Arkansas College held its graduation ceremony at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Friday, May 12. Storie said she did not attend that event but spoke with a Southeast Arkansas College employee who said there were no problems with the sound system at that event. UAPB spokeswoman Tisha Arnold did not respond to questions by press time.