Berkeley High School announced Friday it will not charge for each student’s first two tickets to this year’s graduation ceremony the Greek Theater.
The Daily Planet reported April 23 that the school had decided to charge $10 each for the first two tickets and $15 for every additional ticket, a departure from its earlier custom of giving out two free tickets to every graduating senior and charging $5 for each additional ticket.
Berkeley Unified District officials and members of Berkeley High’s Associated Student Body had attributed the hike in ticket prices to increased expenses for the ceremony, estimated to be more than $100,000 this year. Some parents criticized the change in ticket prices, saying they could not afford the increase amid the economic downturn.
Others pointed to Oakland’s public high schools, which have a much smaller budget for graduation ceremonies and do not charge for tickets, though the Oakland Unified School District does restricts the number of tickets per student depending on the ceremony’s venue.
An April 24 e-mail message, Berkeley High School administration informed the school community that each senior will receive two free tickets for the June 12 ceremony at UC Berkeley’s Greek Theater.
“After that,” the brief note said, “seniors may purchase as many additional tickets as they want for $15 each.”
It went on to explain that, “due to the cost of holding the ceremony at the Greek Theater—Berkeley High’s graduation venue for over four decades—the student leadership, working with the administration, had initially decided that there would be no free tickets. Yesterday the administration decided to increase the amount budgeted for the ceremony in order to ensure that each student receives the initial two tickets at no cost.”
District spokesperson Mark Coplan told the Planet Berkeley High Principal Jim Slemp had stepped in to make the decision.
“When the discussion came up, probably prompted by the Planet article, he intervened and said the school would find a way to do the first two tickets for free,” he said. “He said they had found more money in the General Fund.”
Calls to Principal Slemp and Vice Principal Vernon Walton were not returned before press time.
Last year the Greek Theater charged Berkeley High a little over $19,000 for the venue, including university police, security, parking and staff.
Coplan said the school spent additional money toward other expenses, such as $10,000 for the sound equipment, rental furniture and chairs, a truckload of bottled water, and overtime for safety officers and teachers.
“If you had it at Berkeley High and not the Greek, you could probably cut the expenses down by half,” he said. “But if we had it at Berkeley High, we’d probably have to limit each student to three tickets, whereas at the Greek Theater, we can have more than 7,000 guests.
Not everyone, however, is happy about the school’s decision to give out two tickets for free and still charge $15 for the rest.
“That’s not fair,” said Guin Irvine, the mother of a Berkeley High senior. “They just didn’t do proper planning. If they had brought it to the parents before, maybe something could have been done. They should have talked to parents before asking the students what they want. Of course young people will say ‘I want to have my graduation at the Greek.’ But it’s the parents who are paying for the ticket—I know people who are almost losing their job.”