As winter quarter comes to a close, its graduating class prepares to walk at commencement and receive their degrees. But who is cheering them on in the stands?
Students at Western are generally allocated four spots for family members to watch graduation, depending on how many students are graduating that quarter, Melynda Huskey, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, said.
“The number of guests is a function of the space available in Carver and the number of graduates,” she said. “To allow every graduate to have some guests, we currently have to limit the total.”
For many, the number of tickets given are not sufficient. Samantha Baxley, a public relations fourth-year student, thinks Western’s ticket rule is something that is unfair to families that have supported students throughout their college careers.
“We have worked so hard to get to graduation and it's not just us, our families have sacrificed to get us here too, they deserve to watch us walk,” she said. “I wouldn't consider my family very large either. My parents are divorced and one is remarried meaning that's three out of my four tickets right there.”
Not only are students struggling between inviting family members, but also non-traditional families can be a bit more difficult to account for. For some students, the struggle to choose four people accounts not just for immediate family, but significant others, step-parents and friends.
Charlotte Berkman, a fourth-year child development major at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies, said many students have larger families that Western should consider.
“I have a big, mixed family and I am also getting married,” she said. “I would love if my two parents, step-parents, grandma, fiancé and four siblings could come.”
Berkman said she was so frustrated with Western’s policy, she was reconsidering walking to save her the trouble of deciding who was able to come to the commencement.
“Lots of people have big, mixed families and we have spent so much time and money getting to this point,” Berkman said. “To not be able to share it with the people we love is unfair and frankly makes me not even want to walk at my own graduation out of anger.”
One solution that Western has implemented is the overflow room in Arntzen Hall. Family and friends of graduates can watch a projection of their student walking across the stage.
For Baxley, it’s not enough.
“My family is the reason I'm graduating and the reason I am able to be here,” she said. “They deserve to be there with me, not in an overflow room watching it on a screen.”
But like many others, her family will have no choice but to ultimately watch from a screen.
“I have to choose the four ‘most important’ people and then tell their spouses and my siblings they have to go to the overflow room,” she said. “My family is only driving two hours to be here, but it's hard to ask them to [watch from Arntzen’s overflow room] and tell them they can't actually be at the ceremony.”
According to Huskey, the registrar’s office who is in charge of things like commencement, has been looking into the issue of limited tickets and is working on solutions.
Moving the graduation ceremony to a larger venue, like Civic Stadium for example, seems like a possible solution. Carver Gym’s maximum capacity is 3,100, while Civic Stadium seats 4,000.
According to Huskey, it doesn’t seem that renting the stadium is an option.
“There are significant challenges to using Civic, including cost, accessibility, and the outdoor nature of the venue. During the Carver renovations, we did use alternate venues, and they did not alleviate the difficulties,” Huskey said.
Due to the lack of extra tickets from Western, students have resorted to buying and selling commencement tickets on Facebook groups and other social media platforms for high prices. In previous quarters, students were posting offers ranging from $10 or $15 to “highest offer,” Emili Levite said in a post. Prices can surge up to as much as $125, as Sabrina Mauke offered to Kyle McCaf on the Facebook page, WWU Only.
Monica Thomas, a therapeutic recreation fourth-year student, said that selling tickets in general is unethical.
“Why are [students] trying to cheat people out of money when the university already does?” she said.
Students putting a price on tickets for family members is something that shouldn’t be normalized, Thomas said.
“[Students who sell are] saying, ‘We're going to put a price on your family member’s experience seeing their loved ones succeed,’” Thomas said. “So I feel it's kind of morally questionable to sell tickets for money.”
Thomas herself said she is giving a commencement ticket away to a first generation college student who was looking to buy or trade for tickets on the WWU Only group on Facebook.