Graduating seniors will be paying less to party under the high ceiling of Union Station after GW officials lowered the cost of attending Monumental Celebration, the annual gala on Commencement eve.
Early-bird tickets, which go on sale Feb. 22, will cost $49 for students and $55 for guests. Regular-priced tickets will be $55 for graduates and $65 for guests.
This year’s new ticket prices represent a significant reduction in costs from 2004, when no early pricing was available, seniors were charged $60 and guests paid $70.
GW had to rethink the event’s pricing after last year’s event drew about 1,500 fewer attendees than 2003’s record-breaking crowd of 4,488. University officials attributed the 2004 attendance drop primarily to the elimination of early pricing and a $10 increase in ticket costs.
The event will be held at Union Station, where it was held last year. Officials considered moving the event to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Jim Hess, director of University events, said GW successfully persuaded Union Station to continue hosting Monumental at a lower price so tickets would be less expensive.
“They actually agreed to lower the rental costs on Union Station and threw in some espresso stations,” he said.
University officials had looked into hosting the event at the Smithsonian as a cost-saving measure but abandoned the idea after Union Station made concessions in an attempt to continue its relationship with GW. The school also asked vendors to not raise prices.
Michael Freedman, GW’s vice president for Communications, said Union Station probably agreed to lower its prices because GW is such a good customer.
“A lot of people in this town like working with GW,” Freedman said. “We pay our bills, and that’s half the battle.”
He also was quick to point out that GW does not make a profit on the celebration.
“In all likelihood, the University will continue to have to absorb costs,” Freedman said. “It’s never our goal to make a profit.”
Freedman said Georgetown University charges significantly more money for its senior ball at Union Station. Tickets to Georgetown’s event are $80 – $31 more than GW’s event.
University administrators finalized the details for this year’s Monumental after completing a survey of seniors and graduate students who would likely graduate. The survey revealed that students were still interested in holding a gala at Union Station. With 741 students responding, nearly 70 percent said the Commencement eve tradition was important to them, and a majority said that they wanted the event to return to Union Station. Nearly 94 percent of respondents said that ticket price would be an important factor in influencing their decision to attend.
The University is still exploring options for a group discount rate and a combination ticket that would include the cost of dinner at Union Station.
“We want to do what the students want to do,” Freedman said. “The survey results had a big impact on our decision making process.”
Freedman cited the survey as GW’s reason for exploring alternative ticketing options and said that as a result of the survey, this year’s invitations will encourage students to wear business attire while also keeping the event “black-tie optional,” as it was last year.
Formal attire remained an option because some students “love to be formal in Washington,” Freedman said.
The University is also saving money by not renting Union Station’s lower food court level, which was rented last year in anticipation of high attendance.
Freedman said that despite the lower ticket prices, GW is not cutting back on the “quantity or quality of music or catering” to lower ticket prices.
“We’re not talking about a discounted price for a discounted party,” Freedman said.