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Recent Change in Graduation Site Disrupts Tradition

Illustration by Siena Laws

Graduation for the class of 2019 will not be held at the Greek Theatre, and although it’s not yet determined where the ceremony will be held, Haas Pavilion is a potential location for the event. 

“Right now, in the fall, is when all that stuff gets worked out,” said John Villavicencio, director of student activities, “It is never a 100 percent done deal until they sign an MOU, or a memorandum of understanding, contract, the terms that outline where it’s going to be, the time, who agrees to do what,” he added.

“We had a meeting in October with the superintendent, the associate superintendent, Ms. Rose, myself, the chief of UC Police Department (UCPD), a lieutenant of special events at UCPD, the head of Cal Performances, and the guy from Cal Performances who runs the graduation show, and a number of other people,” said Erin Schweng, Berkeley High School (BHS) principal, “and they brought up several really important concerns that they have about our graduation.”

The Greek Theatre itself is very difficult to keep secure. University of California (UC) Berkeley has a hard time staffing the event, UCPD has a hard time getting enough officers, and these have always been concerns with graduation, said Schweng. On top of that, a fight involving several adults spilled into the streets at graduation last year, she said. “The police responded quickly so that many people inside the event, including myself, didn’t know anything was happening, but the UCPD really feel anxious about their ability to keep the event safe if these sorts of things happen,” Schweng said. Cal Performances and the UC Police are not able to make graduation at the Greek safe to the point where they can confidently call it a secure event. 

The UC has a new special events policy that requires metal detectors for events over 300 people, which slows entry to events by hours. Since instating this policy, normal events at the Greek have seen delays and people being seated hours late. . 

At previous BHS graduations, only one entry has been made available to the public, with graduates entering from the other. 

“So when you already have an issue with parking for Berkeley High’s graduation, and metal detectors at the one entry point, you’re looking at an hours-long line for people to pick up their graduation tickets just to get back in a long line to pass through the metal [detectors] and enter the venue, potentially missing part of the ceremony,” said Schweng.

There is also a concern around accessibility for people with disabilities. “The representatives from Cal had a very strong feeling that the Greek Theatre can no longer accommodate the high volume of people who request ADA seating, which was about 500 last year,” said Schweng. 

According to Schweng, if BHS were to have the event at the Greek, the school would have to pay for an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) consultant, who would recommend temporary restructuring of the theatre, adding a cost of $50,000 to $60,000. Furthermore, the number of people able to attend the graduation would be limited, since ADA seating, by its nature, expands, leaving less general seating available. The estimated cost of graduation at the Greek, even without additional expenses that are associated with the event, is $160,000, which the district cannot afford. 

UC Berkeley asked BHS administrators to consider all these things if holding graduation at the Greek Theatre, and recommended BHS to hold graduation on a Saturday, instead of a Friday, and potentially hold two different ceremonies. 

“I think it’s really important that we have a unified graduation. It’s one of the few things that seniors all do together,” said Schweng. 

This decision to change locations was made while balancing the tradition of holding the ceremony at a beautiful venue with accessibility for people with disabilities, and allowing graduates to have as many family members there as they want.

“I think the most difficult part about changing graduation locations will be the change in tradition of having it at the Greek Theatre, and I totally understand the disappointment,” said Schweng. 

Schweng sent an email to the student body on Thursday communicating the decision to move the event.