Public Comment

The Costs of a Berkeley High School Graduation Ceremony

By Judson H. Owens
Thursday June 11, 2009 - 06:59:00 PM

As of late I have read a number of articles regarding the expenses for the Graduation of Berkeley High School at the UC Hearst Greek Theater. With over 30 years of experience (1974-2005) assisting, producing and directing the production of the graduation at the Greek Theater, I believe I can speak with some authority.  

Please do the math. Let’s assume there are presently 870 persons that will graduate this June. Using the present criteria of providing two tickets free to each graduate, the total number of free tickets would be 1,740. Subtract that amount from the total capacity of the Greek Theater which is stated to be 8,500 leaving 6,760 available tickets. Let's assume, and we must make assumptions as a course of practice, that approximately 4,500 tickets will be sold at $15 totaling $67,500 (2.58 tickets per family sold). Now let’s make some expense assumption (I do have some experience is this area): 


Diplomas (should be a district expense, not BHS): $2,800. 

Renting the Greek Theater: $900.  

Audio equipment ($3,400 when I was assisting): $14,000. 

Printing tickets: $600. 

Programs: $800. 

Security and UC staff (UC Police): $13,000. 

Security, BPD overtime: $4,000. 

BUSD overtime $4,000. 

Flowers: $1,200. 

Renting a truck (transportation of equipment, instruments, music stands, tables, programs, etc.): $400. 

Moving a piano ($0 when I was assisting): $400. 

Renting chair covers: $300. 

Renting robes for board, staff members: $600. 

Bottled water: $700. 

Busses to transport staff: $1,000. 

Parking: $1,300. 

Assumed total: $46,700. 


The decision to use the Greek Theater was initially made in 1967 I believe. It was at that time the school district changed from two graduation ceremonies to one, combining the fall and spring graduations. The fall class traditionally graduating in January and the spring class graduating in June. By separating the class into two parts, the use of the Community Theater was sufficient as the capacity of the theater was at that time 3,497. By having one ceremony or as tradition defines it, commencement exercise, a facility needed to be located to accommodate a larger capacity for the family attending the graduation. Thus the Greek Theater was chosen.  

In prior years the university provided to the school district the use of the Greek Theater gratis. As the district’s use of the Greek Theater continued, the cost of use increased. The university continued to provide monetary support by providing the Greek Theater at cost less 50 percent meaning the university provided the Greek Theater to BUSD for $3,000 instead of $6,000 (an amount negociated between myself and the vice chancellor).  

If memory serves me correctly, in or about 1985 the university informed the district of the need to charge for UC staff overtime (UC police), the cost approximately $8,000. The district, not the high school, paid for the overtime. Some years later, invoices for overtime were not paid by the district and the past amounts were due (totaling over $16,000 at the time). Not having the funds to pay the outstanding invoices and the district refusing to pay stating the expense was not a district responsibility but that of the high school, the decision was made to charge a minimal fee for attending graduation. A fee of $5 was agreed upon for tickets exceeding the free number of 10 per family. Thus 3,500 tickets would be sold at $5 (a total of $17,500) to help cover the cost of graduation. Five thousand free tickets and 3,500 sold for a total of 8,500 tickets. The graduating classes were averaging approximately 1,000. 

So if a like criteria were used, as defined by the principal, two free tickets are being offered to the graduates for an approximate total of 1,740 there should be 6,760 available at $15 each totaling a possible $101,400. That generates an approximate profit of $55,400. Of course these numbers are assumptions as I have stated. I do not believe the cost of graduation has increased from approximately $26,000 in 2005 to over $100,000 in 2009. Do you? Do the math and follow the money. Usually leads one to the truth. In addition, where is the money from prior graduation ticket sales? Someone should ask and demand accountability. Rules, regulations and law dictate the use of student body funds which in my opinion the sale of tickets to a graduation is an expense associated with the student body. In the words of the principal, “this is what the student body officers voted for.” According to the April 30 issue of the Daily Planet, the cost of graduation last year was approximately $29,000.  


Judson H. Owens is a former general services manager for Berkeley Unified School District and a parent of a graduating senior.