Hottest Seat in Town

Kingfisher Productions/DigitalVision/Getty Images

High School Graduation Tickets Have Become A Source Of Drama

And you thought Ticketmaster was bad.

High school graduation is a big deal — and rightly so. It’s a chance for students to mark their transformation from a toothless kindergartener dwarfed by their own backpack to lanky teenager with political opinions, a driver’s license, and better eyebrows than you ever thought possible. But it’s a day for parents to celebrate too, to mark all the lunches packed and permission slips signed, the hours spent in the car chauffeuring your kid to practice and rehearsal, all the times you (both) cried over math homework. It’s a huge milestone, a leap into the next phase of your child’s life, and everyone that loves and supports your kid wants to be there.

But increasingly, not everyone gets to attend the celebration. I don’t remember my own high school graduation in 2006 requiring tickets for entry, and it was held in our high school football field, a fairly small venue for a graduating class of nearly 300 and all their families. But graduation tickets have now become the norm. And to be sure, ticketed ceremonies have helped ease the tension of “first come, first serve” privilege. Not every family can show up an hour or two early to snag seats for 25 people before everyone else arrives. But tickets have created a new problem: often they are a limited number and families have to make difficult decisions about who gets to go.

It’s not uncommon for parents to find themselves scrambling to find extra tickets. “What are we supposed to do with five tickets?” one Louisiana parent tells me about her own son’s high school graduation. “There are a lot of generations in our town, a lot of families with grandparents living with them and aunts and uncles nearby. We’ve got four kids, it’s literally just enough tickets for siblings and parents — stepparents can’t even attend.”

Disappointed stepparents, it turns out, are not uncommon. A Texas woman shared with me that her stepson is graduating this year and despite the fact that she has been in his life since he was 2 years old, she has to miss graduation so his mother and father can attend along with two sets of grandparents.

“Four, that’s all we got,” a south Georgia mom tells me. “It’s so aggravating. They’re having the graduation out on the football field, who cares how many people are there?” She’s asked on Facebook for other parents to share extras — she’s willing to pay $15 per ticket — but hasn’t had any response yet. “Four is truly insane when you think about it. Two parents get to go and then who else? Stepparents? Grandparents? Siblings? Somebody’s going to get left out of this big moment.”

One Florida woman found herself dealing with a guilt trip from her mother, grandmother of the graduate. “I had my own mother telling me to give her my ticket so she could go, because ‘How many more grandbabies will I get to see graduate?’ Excuse me? This is my baby graduating. That comment alone made me want to stop looking for her an extra ticket,” she tells me.

adamkaz/E+/Getty Images

Some schools have solved the problem by hosting their graduations in giant arenas. “We get ten tickets,” one metro-Atlanta mom tells me. “And we have twins, so really we’ve got 20 tickets and we’ll be able to share a bunch with friends.” This particular graduation is held at Gas South Arena, a local venue with 13,000 seats.

In many places, it's not surprising to see a secondary market pop up for tickets. “I paid $75 for two more tickets,” an Arkansas mom tells me. “We had enough for everybody except for two aunts who flew in last minute.” That seems like a lot of money, I tell her, especially when the person you bought them from was given them by the school for free. “Not for free,” she reminds me. “We all had to pay senior dues or your kid can’t walk at graduation. Those were $150 and due at the end of February. I just thought of this like if the school had given me an option to pay more for more tickets and for the other parent to pay less for less tickets. It feels fair.”

Recently, a Florida charter school shared on Facebook that each of its graduating students would receive two tickets; it then opened up a selling platform on which parents could buy additional tickets. Within an hour, the school was down to only 100 tickets left, and several families hadn’t been on to purchase theirs. The school ended up capping each student at an additional three tickets after realizing some families had bought a surplus just because they had access to the sale and the funds readily available.

School administrators are keenly aware this is an issue. “I’ve had this discussion with parents every single year,” a Georgia high school principal tells me. “Some are furious that there aren’t enough and some think the limiting of tickets is a fool-proof system.” Are there any solutions in the works, I ask? “To be honest, I don’t have much to do with this, and a lot of it is decided for us by the school board.”

When I ask him how he feels about selling graduation tickets, like students selling their extras to those who need them, he says he doesn’t get involved “and honestly, I don’t want to know. I had someone tell me they knew of someone making copies at Office Depot and getting in and I just stuck my fingers in my ears.”

Some families have solved this problem by de-emphasizing the ceremony itself and instead focusing on a family celebration. Another Georgia mom tells me that she knew they weren’t going to have enough tickets when her son graduated last year, so they made a big deal of hosting a party at home. “They stream the graduation, so we had it all set up on our TV with the house decorated and snacks and left a bunch of extended family and friends there. Then when we got home, we had a big party to celebrate with our son. It was kind of the perfect day,” she says.

All of the parents I spoke with told me they were just excited to celebrate their kid. They wished there were more tickets and they wished they could purchase more, but they were also happy to be there themselves. And parents do deserve to enjoy that moment without disappointing their grandma or dealing with a great-aunt begging for a ticket.

She can just watch it on live stream instead.