Nine guest tickets.

That’s what each graduating student from Ellison and Harker Heights high schools will be allotted for their commencement ceremonies the first weekend in June.

That announcement came down from Killeen Independent School District administration early this month, and some soon-to-be-graduates and their parents are none too happy about it.

For most families, nine tickets is plenty. But for others, the nine-guest limit means leaving a close relative or family friend off the invite list — and that’s causing a backlash by students, some of whom say they may skip the ceremony in protest.

That would be a shame.

High school graduation is a big deal for many students — as well it should be.

Crossing the stage to receive a hard-earned diploma in front of friends and family is a once-in-a-lifetime occasion the graduate will remember for a lifetime. It’s also an event most families want to witness in person.

Skipping graduation means missing out on those memories, both for the grads and their families.

Still, the reasons for the ticket limit are legitimate — safety and security.

The Expo Center’s seating capacity is 6,500, and last year Ellison and Harker Heights had 656 and 514 graduates, respectively. If those numbers were repeated this year, the nine-ticket maximum would yield crowds of between 5,000 and 5,900, in addition to the graduates, faculty and staff.

Obviously, the district wants to ensure the anticipated crowd size for each graduation is well within limits of what the facility can safely accommodate — and that’s to be commended.

But waiting until this close to the end of the school year to impose the ticket limit seems a bit short-sighted.

Projected graduation numbers for the two schools didn’t just pop up overnight. District officials should have had a pretty good idea where things were headed early this year.

In fact, district officials had reason for concern as far back as last June, when overcrowding at one graduation ceremony resulted in people standing in the aisles and sitting in stairwells. From a safety standpoint, that’s a scenario that can’t be allowed to happen again.

By waiting until early March to announce the new policy, the district put some families in a bind — especially those with relatives planning to visit from out of state. With the schools’ graduation dates locked in since last fall, some out-of-town family members no doubt went ahead and bought their plane tickets to ensure a lower fare. Now they may face the possibility of missing the big event entirely.

Also, it seems unfair to single out Ellison and Harker Heights in this case. Granted, Killeen and Shoemaker high schools have smaller graduating classes — 470 and 480 last year — but the district should still impose a ticket limit — even if it is higher — for consistency’s sake.

Already, frustrated district students have created an online petition calling for Superintendent John Craft to find a larger venue for the graduations, in hopes of eliminating the ticket-limit policy.

District communication officer Terry Abbott acknowledged Craft has considered changing venues in order to accommodate the growing high school student population in the future. but the fact remains that the Expo Center is the largest indoor venue in the Killeen-Temple area.

Abbott also noted that the Expo Center has two “spillover rooms” for people who want to attend but can’t get tickets. One room looks out onto the arena floor and the other is equipped with a video screen that will carry the district’s simulcast of the graduation.

If voters approve a fifth traditional high school in May’s bond election, the resulting redistribution of students across the district would serve to lower graduating class sizes — potentially eliminating the need for ticket limits, at least temporarily.

Abbott said the district has encouraged graduating students to work with their classmates to obtain unused tickets, if possible.

That’s one approach, but perhaps a better solution would be the creation of a ticket pool. Under that setup, students who don’t need their entire allotment of graduation tickets would donate the ones they don’t plan to use — after consulting with their parents — so the extra tickets can be reallocated to other graduates.

The pool could be organized at the high school level, with school administrators handling the allocation process, or it could be coordinated at the district level.

Either way, it would eliminate a lot of anxiety for some students, who otherwise would have to solicit tickets from classmates or face the unpleasant task of informing a close friend or relative that he or she can’t witness the grad’s big day.

High school graduation is a significant milestone in a student’s life. The Killeen school district should do everything possible to ensure its graduates can share the experience with those who matter most. | 254-501-7543

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