Commencement Controversy: Legitimate or Trivial?

The decision by the University to lower the number of tickets al­lotted to students for commence­ment has met with student outrage. An online petition to change the venue to accommodate an increased number of guests, created by student Alain Mizero on Feb. 21st, has accumulated 385 sig­natures so far. On the Facebook page for UWT’s class of 2016, the last 21 of 25 posts were regarding commencement tickets, at the time of this writing.

I have heard many arguments from students who are furious. While I myself am not upset by the decrease in tickets (I am unlikely to go at all) I could sym­pathize with those that were. If I was to attend the ceremony, I could invite only my mom, grandma, husband, sister, and my two-year-old niece. Neither my mom nor my sister could bring their respective boyfriends, none of my non-graduating friends could come, and my aunt and cousins would be completely out of the question.

I didn’t think much more about the problem until I heard that some students were arguing back—not with the univer­sity, but with fellow students. They were irritated and annoyed at the hubbub fel­low students were making and were throwing their opinions in the mix. It’s easy to have an opinion when there is only one side to an argument. But once I heard that there were two, I decided to talk to both sides and weigh in myself, as is the opinion writer’s mandate.

There are many arguments as to why the five ticket cap is unfair. The most widespread by far is that five is simply not enough. It allows for the bare bones of people who care about your achieve­ment and creates a situation in which treasured friends and family members are left out or, worse, uninvited. “In this day and age, most students have two sets of parents, so that already makes four tickets. Then, if you have siblings, that adds a few more… for me I have a child which adds one more. So in my immedi­ate family I am already above five,” says environmental science student Katrina Sells. “I assumed we would get the same amount as last year [seven] so I already invited seven people. Now it’s awkward as hell to uninvite two people. One of my best friends has been talking about going to my graduation for years now and hav­ing to tell her she can’t go is devastating,” says another graduating senior I talked to.

The issue of limited space has been acknowledged, but the reason for the limited space seems to be the real issue of contention. Lindsey Clark, from the Office of the Registrar, cited the large number of students who were graduating (approximately 1700 this year) as the reason for the reduction. But students are highly aware of the University’s ag­gressive expansion efforts, and feel that they should foot the bill for the increased costs of their success. Says one student, “I know our campus is growing and ex­panding, but with that expansion comes the responsibility of accommodating the needs of all those students.”

Lastly, students are very angry that UWT sells itself as equal to the Seattle campus (“Your degree will just say Uni­versity of Washington!”) but students of the Seattle campus are allowed to bring “as many family and friends as they wish.” If students aren’t treated the same on both campuses, how ethical is it for UWT to be selling that idea?

On the other side of the aisle are stu­dents who find the outrage, well, outra­geous. They claim that it is far too late to start a petition and students should have kept a wary eye on the horizon far ear­lier (pardon my Pirates of the Caribbean phrases). They claim that the Tacoma Dome requires booking a year in advance so any attempts to change the venue now are futile. Further counter-arguments include: the lack of real “need” of more than five tickets (it is simply a “want” that entitled students have miscategorized into a need), the impact lobbying for a bigger venue will have on future gradu­ating classes (bigger venues cost more money, likely money students will be coughing up), and the fact that the ex­perience of earning one’s bachelor’s de­gree should far outweigh the importance of having other people see you receive it.

After carefully considering both sides, I throw my weight in with the pe­titioners. But not for the reasons you may expect.

A majority of the naysayers’ argu­ments fall into one of the three categories: futility, triviality, and condescension. “The decision has already been made,” “It’s too late now,” and “the administration will never budge on this,” are all lessons in futility. This argument boils down to: you have no power and you are wasting your time. “The value is in the total ex­perience, not the graduation,” “People will just want even more tickets in the future and never be happy,” and “A lot of other schools probably limited guest tickets as well so why should Tacoma students be special?” are all arguments indicating that this particular issue is trivial and not worth fighting against. And finally, the most pernicious rebuttals are the condescending ones. “Grow up,” “Act like an adult,” and “Stop whining,” frame those who are angry about this issue as petulant and immature and cer­tainly not deserving of any change in arrangements.

The “outrage police,” in truth, have no trace of the authority they have given themselves. If they were, in fact, on the opposite side of an issue, they would have a valid stake in the fight. But they don’t seem to be arguing that five tickets is more than enough or even satisfactory. They are simply claiming that those who are angry about it have no right to be. It is very easy to assume a lofty position of wisdom based on the fact that you have no skin in the game. But if you are not affected or bothered by a problem, why are you still inserting yourself into the problem?

If four years of schooling had a man­date to teach students one thing, it would be not to passively accept the status quo. Higher education is about learning how to question, analyze, and challenge the way things are. “Why did the ticket num­ber decrease?” “Is it acceptable that this has happened?” and “Is there anything we can do to change it?” are the kinds of questions that should always be asked. The college experience, if nothing else, should teach you not to let anyone tell you that what upsets you is futile, trivial, or not worth fighting for.