University of South Carolina seniors participating in the May 9 commencement ceremony will now be able to invite six guests instead of four to their graduation, where Vice President Joe Biden will be the speaker.
USC announced Tuesday that each graduate will be able to reserve one ticket for themselves and six others for family members for the exercises at Colonial Life Arena.
That number is up from the four tickets USC initially said graduates would be able to reserve for guests in addition to their own ticket.
After Monday’s original announcement, many USC students voiced displeasure with the limit. Some argued that out-of-town family members already had purchased plane tickets and booked airline reservations and said the three-week notice didn’t allow sufficient time to respond.
“We’ve heard from students and parents and we’ve had a better idea of what the demand (for tickets) might be,” said USC spokesman Wes Hickman. After considering that demand, Hickman said USC and Colonial Life officials – at the urging of USC President Harris Pastides – began considering ways to reconfigure the traditional seating arrangement at the Colonial Life Arena for the ceremony. The initial seating plan would have accommodated about 10,000 guests, but Hickman said the reconfigured plan opened up about 3,000 additional seats.
“The ability to increase the guaranteed ticket allotment to six for guests will accommodate the majority of the requests for additional tickets we have received so far,” Hickman said.
Tuesday’s announcement came as welcome news to many USC students.
Amy Josephson, who will graduate from the School of Public Health on May 9, has several family members coming from as far away as Canada. She said she now is much more confident they’ll get to see her walk across the stage.
“I actually think I’m going to be able to work it out, which is good,” she said. “I’m really glad that they listened to us. I knew they would work it out.”
Under the revised plan, seniors graduating May 9 must submit a typed list of their 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.
Any unclaimed tickets for the May 9 event will go back into a general pool following an initial distribution period. May 9 graduates will be given the first opportunity to claim those tickets.
The procedure is similar to the one USC followed when President George W. Bush was the 2003 graduation speaker. Hickman noted that most students were able to get the tickets they needed then and said he’s optimistic they will again this year.
“For those who may need a few more than that, we’re hopeful that those requests can be accommodated through unclaimed tickets,” Hickman said.
Asked if Williams-Brice Stadium had been considered as an alternate graduation site, Hickman said that idea came up in discussions but officials ultimately determined they could accommodate everyone at Colonial Life Arena. He said holding the event at the stadium also would have posed more logistical problems.
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.
James McNerney, chairman and chief executive of the Boeing Co., which has a jet manufacturing plant in North Charleston, will speak the following morning to about 1,100 Honors College and College of Arts and Sciences graduates.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a Columbia native, will address a second May 10 ceremony, in the afternoon, for about 1,200 graduates in education, engineering and computing, hospitality, social work, music and interdisciplinary programs.
Hickman said that the May 9 commencement will be the largest in the school’s history and that the three combined ceremonies will honor the largest number of graduates in the university’s history.
“We appreciate the patience and flexibility of everyone involved – students and their families and the Colonial Life Arena staff – as we work to accommodate as many graduates and their loved ones as possible,” he said.