‘Couldn’t they have told us earlier?’: Students frustrated over change in commencement ticket policy


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The Cathedral of Learning.

By Kelly McPoyle, Staff Writer

Nenyasha Shoko’s family planned for months to watch her commencement ceremony in person. Now, they are scrambling to determine who will get to attend the event, though their flights have been booked for months. 

“I want my immediate family to come,” Shoko, a senior sociology and communication rhetoric major, said.

On Wednesday, Pitt sent an email to all graduating students which said tickets will now be required to enter the commencement ceremony at the Petersen Events Center, “due to the overwhelming graduate response.” This announcement comes a week and a half before graduation which takes place on Sunday, April 30. 

Kate Ledger, acting vice chancellor for communications and marketing, said hundreds more students signed up for commencement this year compared to last year.

“There are more than 2,500 students registered for the commencement ceremony this year, compared to almost 2,100 last year,” Ledger said. “The decision to use ticketing for guests this year was driven by the increase in students attending commencement, which wasn’t confirmed until registration closed on Friday, April 14th.”

Last year’s commencement took place at the Petersen Events Center, which holds 12,508 seats. 

Prior to this week, tickets into the Petersen Events Center were going to be given on a first- come, first-served basis. 

Zach Young, a senior nursing major, said the announcement caused confusion for him and his family.

“They explicitly said tickets are not required, they just recommended no more than four guests,” Young said. “We went into this thinking there wouldn’t be any limits whatsoever.” 

Shay Habeb, a senior chemistry major, has family coming from eastern Pennsylvania and Qatar.

“I used to live in Qatar,” Habeb said. “My mom flew in from Doha, Qatar about a week and a half ago. She made a trip out of it to see her sister and they were going to come to my graduation.” 

 Habeb said due to how quickly hotels and Airbnbs fill up before graduation, it took a lot of effort to find accommodations for her entire family. 

“My family booked an AirBnB for 12 people and they can’t cancel it,” Habeb said. “People booked for graduation weekend in November. I booked in February, so I was late.” 

Pitt sent an email to graduates Wednesday night with an update and apologizing for confusion. According to the email “safety is our top priority and limiting capacity at the Petersen Events center is required.” 

Pitt’s said family members who can’t come to the Petersen Events Center “may watch the livestream from the nearby Fitzgerald Field House.” According to the website and email sent to graduates Wednesday night, families can spend time with their graduate before and after the ceremony and can also watch the ceremony in the Assembly Room in the William Pitt Union or online. 

“There’s no point in bringing the rest of my family to campus if they can’t watch me graduate in person,” Young said. “It’s not as good of an experience for them.” 

In the Wednesday night email, Pitt confirmed that tickets are transferable. “By using the Ticketmaster app, you will be able to transfer tickets to friends who need tickets if you do not,” the email said. A Facebook group will be set up for graduates in need of tickets. 

Shoko said the options the University offered haven’t been helpful.

“I have yet to find anyone waving around extra tickets,” Shoko said. 

Habeb is scrambling to find tickets since she originally planned to bring 12 guests to commencement. 

“I kid you not, I texted every senior I know,” Habeb said. “I texted my sorority group chat and asked them to ask all the seniors they know. Most people I know have more than four people coming, though.”

Habeb also said she wishes Pitt would have booked a larger venue to accommodate more people.

“There’s other places in Pittsburgh that they could spend a little extra money on,” Habeb said. “The business school has their graduation at PPG Arena. If they rented out a bigger venue, graduates would have been able to bring more than four guests.” 

In response to a question about if Pitt considered larger venues for the ceremony, Ledger said the University is “considering other options for future commencement ceremonies.”

Shoko said she feels frustrated by the University’s handling of the situation, especially so close to the event. 

“I’ve gone here for four years, it’s expensive to go here, and I’ve worked hard to graduate,” Shoko said. “For the school to turn around and be like ‘well you have to choose who can actually watch you graduate and everyone else can either stay home or watch on a screen,’ feels disrespectful. They’ve had these numbers for a while, so why couldn’t they have told us earlier?”

Young echoed the same frustration and said he feels that communication has been a recurring issue from the University. 

“After four years at Pitt I’ve had to deal with them not communicating at all with COVID and not communicating E.N.S alerts with us,” Young said, “thank God I’m graduating, because I’m so sick and tired of it.”