Sacramento State graduates finally have a commencement venue: Golden 1 Center

After months of uncertainty, Sacramento State seniors finally know where they will graduate and how many tickets they can give friends and family.

The university signed an agreement Tuesday with Golden 1 Center following five months of negotiations. Graduation ceremonies will be held on Friday, May 19, and Saturday, May 20, with three ceremonies each day.

Each student can obtain a maximum of nine tickets – three more than the limit announced on the school’s website last week.

Sacramento State has been in a commencement quandary ever since the school’s regular venue – Sleep Train Arena – closed to public use after the university’s December graduation. Campus officials did not specify Tuesday what delayed the agreement or what the contract will cost.

Only 10 weeks remain until the ceremonies, and students have been frustrated because they haven’t known where and when they will walk across the stage. Many universities schedule their commencement dates years in advance so students and their families can plan ahead.

CSUS posted the dates on its website last week, but have since expanded the number of ceremonies from four to six and rearranged the graduation schedule.

“We have been negotiation with Golden 1 for quite some time,” said university spokeswoman Elisa Smith. “We started conversations with them about a year ago.”

Representatives from the university and the Golden 1 Center worked through the weekend to come to an agreement, Smith said. Negotiations also included the city of Sacramento because of the need to coordinate parking.

Smith said university officials explored other options for the graduation ceremonies including Cal Expo, Memorial Auditorium, the Sacramento Convention Center and Raley Field. They also considered Hornet Stadium and other venues on campus.

“All yielded fewer guest seats than Golden 1, so that was really the best option for us,” she said.

The cost of labor, rentals, security and maintenance associated with the university’s Hornet Stadium would have been more expensive than renting an outside venue, President Robert Nelsen said in a message to the campus.

A record number of graduating seniors and one ceremony fewer than in past years will result in a longer commencement, Nelsen wrote.

No additional tickets will be distributed, although students will have the opportunity to exchange tickets on the Sacramento State Alumni Facebook page beginning in April, Smith said.

The ticket limit has left students and their families frustrated. Three weeks ago, Smith said the number of tickets could vary, but would be limited to 12 with an opportunity for students to obtain more if needed. A week later, the university said students could obtain only six.

“We realize that we can’t make everyone happy,” Smith said of the nine-ticket limit. “With more than 5,300 students, that is the best we can do.”

Nelsen said the university was able to offer 12 tickets at the winter commencement because only 2,411 students graduated, compared with the more than 5,000 expected to graduate in May.

The university will live-stream ceremonies and host a viewing party on campus at the University Union.

“I think it is an attempt to make up for it,” said senior Pierce Grohosky, who added that catering might help appease those concerned by friends and family not being able to attend the live ceremony.

The school’s winter commencement marked the first time Sacramento State set a ticket limit. The policy change was a response to an overcrowding problem at the prior commencement in May, when family members were turned away from the College of Health and Human Services ceremony because Sleep Train Arena had filled to capacity.

In the past, graduates had been allowed to invite as many guests as they wanted, and no tickets were required.

The university announced Tuesday that it will award honorary doctorates to Ephraim Williams, the pastor of St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church in Sacramento, and Sacramento Bee Publisher Cheryl Dell, a 1982 Sacramento State graduate. Western Health Advantage CEO Garry Maisel will receive the President’s Medal for Distinguished Service.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

Related stories from Sacramento Bee