Ticket sales indicate that GW’s annual gala at Union Station on the eve of Commencement will be sparsely attended for a second consecutive year, despite a well-advertised decrease in admission prices.
Monumental Celebration, a traditional bash for graduating seniors, their families and friends, was attended by about 3,000 people last May, a 1,500-person drop from the year before. Officials attributed the decline to an increase in ticket prices. Last year’s graduating seniors were charged $60, and guests paid $70 for tickets.
In an attempt to increase sales, the University lowered ticket prices for this year’s gala, charging $55 for graduates and $65 for all other guests. Early-bird tickets were also offered in February at $49 for students and $55 for guests, an option not available for the 2004 celebration.
While Jim Hess, executive director of University Events, said that so far “ticket sales are somewhat ahead of last year,” he anticipates between 2,500 and 3,000 guests. The 2003 celebration brought a record-breaking number of 4,488 people to the event.
Last December, the University distributed a survey to graduating seniors and graduate students to get some input about the annual event. The survey showed 70 percent of the 741 respondents believed Monumental Celebration was an important tradition. Also, 94 percent of respondents claimed ticket prices would weigh heavily on their decision to attend.
“We conducted a survey … and students told us that cost is a factor when deciding on purchasing tickets,” Hess said. “That is why we lowered the price.”
For seniors such as Keri Osborne, the lowered price is still not an incentive to attend the event.
“It’s too much money to spend time in a room with people I don’t like,” she said.
Other seniors, however, see the Commencement eve celebration as an important tradition that they are excited to attend.
“I think it’s a nice idea for all those graduating. It’s like our last hurrah,” senior Brian Goldberg said. “The tickets were a little expensive, but most things are around the time of graduation.”
Earlier this year the University considered holding the annual celebration at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History to reduce costs. The University and Union Station officials were able to agree on lower prices, enabling the gala to remain at the D.C. landmark.
“We … negotiated costs on the event down, including the space rental,” Hess said. “Our goal has been to enable and encourage as many… as possible to attend. We were willing to take a bit of a risk by lowering prices in order to do this.”
Even in previous years, when prices were higher, the University lost money on the event. Lower-than-hoped-for sales suggest it may lose money again. In past interviews, officials have declined to discuss specific figures, but said GW drops tens of thousands of dollars on the yearly event.
Georgetown University holds a Senior Ball at Union Station, a similar event to celebrate their graduation. The tickets cost their graduation. The tickets cost $80 for graduates and guests, about $15 more than the highest regular-priced tickets for Monumental.
Victoria Ocotarola, a Georgetown Senior Class Committee member, said that while her university holds fundraising activities throughout the year for graduates who cannot afford tickets, there is usually not a big deal made about the ticket prices. She said the Senior Ball gets about 5,000 to 6,000 attendees each year.
Those attending GW’s Monumental Celebration will enjoy dancing in two separate halls, photographers, caricature artists, magicians and other entertainers at Union Station. Tickets are still available by phone or through the Commencement Web site at http://www.gwu.edu/~grad05. n
-Michael Barnett contributed to this report.