The Columbian School of Arts and Sciences cut back on tickets it hands out to graduates and will work to prevent counterfeit tickets after turning away graduation guests last year, University officials said. All other schools will offer at least the same number of invitations as last year.
The Columbian School will distribute three tickets for graduate’s guests for the main Smith Center CSAS ceremony – one less than last year – and two other tickets for a live broadcast in Lisner Auditorium after overcrowding caused hundreds of ticket-holding guests to be turned down at the door last year.
Smith Center employees shut the doors last year with about 300 guests
still outside due to a lack of seats.
Hess said the Columbian School has always come close to filling the Smith Center but never had a problem with overcrowding before last year. The Class of 2000 was not the largest the school has graduated, Hess said.
“(The overcrowding) was a little bit of a surprise,” he said.
“It was a minor fiasco,” said Eydie Costantino, special assistant to the dean of CSAS. “There were parents and friends that couldn’t get in.”
University officials suspect counterfeit tickets were made last year, which contributed to the lack of seating in the Smith Center, Hess said.
To prevent counterfeit tickets this year, Columbian School officials are distributing tickets closer to the ceremony, Hess said. Columbian School students can pick up tickets Thursday, Friday and Saturday before Commencement in Phillips Hall instead of receiving them in the graduation packets distributed by the registrar’s office like past years.
The amount of tickets given to each student depends on the amount of space left after seating all graduates in the school. The Columbian School is preparing for 1,200 graduate and undergraduate students, Costantino said, leaving about 3,800 spots open in the Smith Center, which holds almost 5,000.
Columbian School senior Brad Murphy said he understands why students only get three tickets, but said his family should be able to see him graduate after paying GW’s tuition.
“It’s kind of tough to tell my grandmother that she was going to have to watch me on closed-circuit television,” he said. “What does that have to say about GW?”
Murphy found extra tickets by putting an ad in The Hatchet. He paid $125 for five tickets.
“This is a big deal,” he said. “We are not in some rural area. We have large facilities throughout the city. Something should be done.”
The office of Special Events looked into alternative sites for the ceremony, including the Convention Center, which seats at least 15,000, the MCI Center with more than 20,000 seats and the D.C. Armory, which can seat about 10,000 people. None of the venues were available this year. Although the D.C. Armory is big enough, it is not air-conditioned. Hess said the building could be air conditioned by May next year, making it a more viable option.
“There’s a real physical limitation (at the Smith Center),” Hess said.
The unified commencement ceremony on the Ellipse usually draws about 20,000 graduates and guests.
Costantino said although the Lisner event will not be a live ceremony, it will be better than last year’s Lisner event because it will accommodate a larger overall audience.
Hess said the telecast was the only good option to help alleviate the ticket problem.
“Tickets are a problem for some every year,” Hess said. “For some families it’s never an issue, (but) there are some that would always have an issue.”
Columbian School graduates fill the entire Smith Center floor and some bleachers at the ceremony, Hess said. The School of Business and Public Management graduates also fill some bleachers during their ceremony. SBPM has about 1,000 students, who will receive four tickets for the Smith Center – the same as last year.
The 368 Elliott School of International Affairs graduates will not fill the Smith Center floor and will receive 10 tickets each this year – four more than last year.
Students in the Elliott School can request additional tickets, which are usually available, said Debbi Washington, senior undergraduate adviser for the Elliot school.
Hess said he does not expect a seating shortage at the main Commencement ceremony on the Ellipse. The number of seats will vary depending on the National Park Service, which fences off space on the Ellipse for the ceremony. In the past the University has been able to accommodate 19,000 to 22,000 guests. Each student receives six tickets for the outdoor ceremony.
University Special Events holds a waiting list and looks at the numbers of distributed tickets to see if GW can give out more seats, Hess said. Students should seek ticket help from their own school in addition to the University of Special Events waiting list, since each school controls its ticket distribution, he said.
CSAS does not keep a separate waiting list, Costantino said.
Hess said students should talk to their classmates for extra tickets.
“We’ve always discouraged the selling of tickets, but swapping is great,” he said.
Hess said he is concerned about GW’s increasing enrollment “in a positive way” and said he has received negative feedback from students and parents.
“With limited faculties we can’t please everybody,” he said. “We understand where they’re coming from. They may be a bit frustrated but I think they understand.”