Graduating seniors will receive four tickets to graduation per family under a trial program approved 8-1 — with Chairman Bob Hayes dissenting — by the School Committee on Wednesday, May 10. The policy will be revisited each year.
Principal Jeffrey Szymaniak recommended the change after he received complaints from some parents about the general admission system used in the past.
The use of tickets will require using the main office door at about 4:45 p.m., for ticket-holder admission before the gym doors open to general admission at 5:30 p.m. All unoccupied seats would be up for grabs at 5:30 p.m.
The tickets would be handed out to seniors on the first day of commencement rehearsal, with the instruction to return any unneeded tickets to the office the next day “so that they don’t go up on eBay,” Szymaniak said. “I’ve seen it — it happens in Pembroke.”
Hayes, who noted he has had to “make peace” between bickering families at some graduations, stressed the need to provide clearly worded instruction letters to parents that students make sure their parents get. Lost tickets also create a problem, he said.
“You’re going to need more people to be out in the trenches figuring out the saving [of seats], because it’s going to happen,” he said.
Szymaniak said he is trusting the people of Whitman and Hanson to behave honorably and make good choices.
“I’m not putting students in the position to take tickets, I’m not putting students in position to make judgments for adults,” Szymaniak said, noting staff members or other adult volunteers would be asked to fill that role. “That’s not comfortable for me, that’s not comfortable for kids. … “Maybe next year this doesn’t work and we go back to something.”
He told the parents who made the request for a change that he would look into the situation, meeting with Assistant Principal David Floeck and Administrative Assistant Siobhan Horton, who coordinate the ceremony, and Facilities Director Ernest Sandland about the number of chairs fire codes permit on the gym floor. Hanson Fire Chief Jerome Thompson Jr., advised Sandland that 1,700 chairs are permitted on the floor, along with room for another 500-600 to stand on the floor.
“I was quite honest with them — I don’t know how it flows,” Szymaniak said of the current system, explaining he is with seniors inside the school for the hours before the graduation ceremony. “Once 4:30 p.m. hits, I’m with kids. … It’s really the best hour and a half I spend with seniors because everybody’s excited.”
Parents are known to begin standing in line at the gym entrance as soon as the school day ends at about 1:40 p.m. until the doors open at 5 p.m.
There is also overflow seating in the second-floor lecture hall and the air-conditioned performing arts center — as well as standing room for nearly 900 on the walking track overlooking the gym floor.
“I also asked my South Shore Principal group what they do for graduation, and I looked at schools that are about the same size as us,” Szymaniak said.
He found a variety of ways to approach graduation ceremony admission.
Pembroke, like W-H, does indoor ceremonies only. Many other schools plan for outdoor ceremonies, with the option to move indoors in case of rain with admission by ticket only.
Duxbury (250-300 seniors), Scituate, Hingham and Silver Lake all provide three tickets per family. Pembroke makes three to five tickets available; Abington provides six (125 seniors); Hanover (175 kids) does four; and Weymouth (400) and Brockton (150) both provide two tickets. Foxboro has no limits on attendance.
“The parents have a valid issue,” Szymaniak said. “Can we make it better?”
He calculated how many tickets the school could make available, based on the size of the gym and spillover areas and came up with two scenarios to discuss before making his recommendation for the graduating class of about 280 — stay the same or offer either two tickets per senior or four. He also had to calculate in the 30 people on stage, including administrators, School Committee members and class officers; 60 faculty members, about 75 band and chorus members as well as 50 to 60 50-year graduates.
Students with blended families would have to choose between parents and step-parents with the two-ticket option.
“We would still have lines, but I can guarantee a seat — maybe not together — but I can guarantee a seat for four people in a family,” he said of the four-ticket option, making that recommendation. “My issue would be around reserved seating.”
The open admission policy has allowed members of the community to attend, as well.
School Committee member Christopher Howard suggested a small post-event committee could be appointed to review the use of tickets and whether it should be retained for next year.
Szymaniak also reminded the senior class that the “Senior Assassin” water pistol game is not sanctioned by the school and therefore not permitted on school grounds or at on-campus events during or after the school day.