Hundreds of friends and relatives who came to Memorial Auditorium this week to watch John F. Kennedy High School’s graduation were turned away after the venue filled past capacity.
The Wednesday event for the Greenhaven school became a surprisingly hot ticket. School and auditorium officials believe some people entered with counterfeit tickets, and sellers were seen out front offering passes that may have been reproduced.
A long line formed once the ceremony started at 3 p.m. so stragglers would not distract from the graduates marching to their seats. Doors opened briefly about 20 minutes later, but police soon announced over a loudspeaker that capacity had been reached and no one else would be allowed in.
“At that point people started getting really agitated,” said Christina Martinez, who was there to watch her son’s girlfriend graduate. “Some people started crying, some people went to side doors and started banging on them, it was just such a sad scene.”
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While police had to be the bearer of bad news, the command to shut the doors permanently came from inside the auditorium. Memorial Auditorium manager Bryan Chatterton said people were standing in the aisles, which presented a safety concern, and the venue’s event supervisor was forced to close doors.
The school feels really badly about it and really, everyone feels bad about it. This is a graduation, nobody wants to turn what should be such a positive experience into something negative.
Gabe Ross, Sacramento City Unified School District spokesman
“That would have been a dangerous situation,” Chatterton said.
Memorial Auditorium has 3,850 seats, and Sacramento City Unified School District spokesman Gabe Ross said Kennedy officials told the venue that they expected 3,600 people on hand – 3,100 attendees and 500 graduates. Each graduate received four free tickets and could purchase additional seats for $5 each.
“The school feels really badly about it and really, everyone feels bad about it,” Ross said. “This is a graduation, nobody wants to turn what should be such a positive experience into something negative.”
Chatterton heard from several ticket-takers that they received tickets that looked and felt fabricated. Ross said that some reported that people were selling fakes outside, though he did not know how many counterfeit tickets there were.
While the real tickets were printed in color and on cardstock, they looked very much like business cards and had very little graphics.
“The tickets were somewhat easy to replicate,” Ross said. “That’s an area that the school is looking to improve for next year so that this doesn’t happen again.”
While the fake tickets may have played a role in the auditorium filling to capacity, Ross said the afternoon start time also contributed. Kennedy’s graduation was at 3 p.m. Wednesday, which is a school tradition, Ross said. But the time caused some who had to work to run late.
“Everyone who was not late had a seat,” Ross said. “But when there’s a significant number of people who are late, it gets harder to bring them in. Because once the event starts, there’s one seat here, two seats there and one seat here, it gets harder for staff to identify how many open seats there are and makes things more complicated.”
Memorial Auditorium ran 27 other graduation ceremonies besides Kennedy’s, and Chatterton said all ran smoothly. Ross said the same of other SCUSD schools that had graduation ceremonies in the past month.
“Graduation or any large events rarely go perfectly,” Ross said. “But this is not a systemic problem. Maybe a handful of people don’t get in from graduation to graduation, but this by all accounts was an anomaly with the volume of people who weren’t able to get in.”
Last month, a similar scene unfolded at Sleep Train Arena when friends and family of graduates from Sacramento State’s College of Health and Human Services were shut out of commencement. After some people pushed their way in, security guards came to help block entrances. Unlike Kennedy’s graduation, the Sacramento State event did not require tickets.