Hosting VP Biden, USC limits tickets for May 9 commencement

04/14/2014 5:37 PM

04/14/2014 5:40 PM

University of South Carolina seniors graduating May 9 will have to prioritize their guest lists carefully for the big day.

The university said Monday that tickets will be required for the commencement exercises in Colonial Life Arena, where Vice President Joe Biden will be the commencement speaker.

Each graduate can get one ticket to use and up to four more tickets for guests. Graduates must submit a typed list of guests’ full names to the university.

USC did not say why that list is required, but, typically, the Secret Service screens those attending events where the president or vice president will be present.

USC seniors who graduate May 10 also can get one ticket to the May 9 commencement. In keeping with USC’s usual practice, there will be no restrictions on the number of guests for two additional commencement exercises set for May 10.

Biden will address about 1,400 graduates from USC’s business, public health, mass communications, nursing and pharmacy schools during the 3 p.m. ceremony on May 9.

“It’s great honor, and it’s a commencement ceremony that everyone will enjoy and remember,” said Wes Hickman, USC’s chief communications officer. “There is a limited amount of seating available, and we’re trying to accommodate as many people as possible within those limits.”

The Colonial Life Arena seats 18,000 at capacity. But Hickman said there will be about 10,000 available seats when the arena is set up for each graduation.

Monday’s announcement ended growing speculation across the Columbia campus about a ticket limit after USC announced Biden’s speech last week. Student reaction on campus was mixed.

But, by late afternoon, petitions demanding more tickets be made available had begun springing up on various online and social media sites.

Journalism graduate Rixon Lane of Woodruff said that after he gives tickets to his father, mother and brother, he’ll have to choose from among more than a dozen remaining family members for his last ticket.

“That’s going to be a hard choice to make,” Lane said. “That means that someone who is very close to me is not going to be able to come. It’s a big event, and I would like for as many people to be there as possible. It’s not easy to graduate from college.”

Even so, Lane says he understands the reasons for the limit and the prestige that Biden’s appearance brings to the school.

“I can only assume that it’s because of security issues and things like that,” he said. “At the end of the day, I think it will be something that we’ll all remember. I, personally, don’t have a problem with the vice president coming here. I know other people may not agree with it.”

USC senior Kelly Brittan, who will graduate from the business school May 9, said she wasn’t surprised by the ticket limit, adding that such restrictions are common in Ohio where she grew up.

“It’s just expected,” Brittan said. “But I know a lot of people made their graduations plans back in the fall, so I can imagine the problems it’s causing for folks with large families.”

As news about a potential ticket limit circulated across campus Monday, the USC registrar’s office was flooded with calls from students, many reporting long waits on hold. A call from The State newspaper to the registrar’s office Monday afternoon remained on hold for more than an hour. The office posted an official notice about the ticket policy on its website shortly before 5 p.m. Monday.

Tickets to the May 9 graduation will be issued from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., April 24-25, at Colonial Life Arena ticket window. May 9 graduates will be given first rights to any unclaimed tickets for that commencement, which will be distributed May 28 on a first-come, first-served basis.

Biden is the first sitting vice president to speak at a USC commencement, the school said. Two sitting presidents have delivered graduation addresses, George H. W. Bush in 1990 and George W. Bush in 2003. Both times, graduates had to sign up for a restricted pool of tickets.

This will be the vice president’s second visit to the state in the past year. The presumed 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful was the headline speaker at the S.C. Democratic Party’s Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner a year ago.

A pair of top executives will speak at USC commencements on May 10.

James McNerney, chairman and chief executive of the Boeing Co., which has a jet manufacturing plant in North Charleston, will speak in the morning to about 1,100 Honors College and College of Arts and Sciences graduates.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a Columbia native, will address an afternoon ceremony for about 1,200 graduates in education, engineering and computing, hospitality, social work, music and interdisciplinary programs.

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