Horry County high school graduation ceremony ticketing system a hassle for some, no problem for others

Justin Knipper (18) hits a beach ball after Socastee High School held its 2015 commencement ceremony Thursday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach.
Justin Knipper (18) hits a beach ball after Socastee High School held its 2015 commencement ceremony Thursday at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center in Myrtle Beach. For The Sun News

High school graduations are a cause for celebration in most households, but for some big families, the fight over who gets to attend the ceremony is no party.

All Horry County high schools use a ticketing system to determine the number of people each graduate can invite to the ceremony, according to Teal Harding, district spokeswoman. All graduations are planned and managed at the school level, not by the district, Harding said.

Conway High School – which had more than 250 graduates – worked with the HTC Center at Coastal Carolina University to calculate the number of tickets each graduate received, according to principal Steven Fitch. Conway seniors each had seven tickets to graduation this year.

“What we have we give out,” Fitch said. “We have to do it this way to make sure we have enough seats for everyone.”

Fitch said Conway High officials have never heard any formal complaints about the ticketing system.

Seven tickets were enough for Beth Hagwood’s family, who watched her son Reid walk across the stage Wednesday night. She said students who didn’t need all seven tickets networked with others, which prevented a “free for all” to grab seats before the ceremony.

“It was very well organized,” Hagwood said.

Iris McCall, who traveled from Florida to see her niece graduate, said seven tickets was nowhere near enough, especially for large families. The family had to leave most members at the hotel while Shaquita Livingston, McCall’s niece, walked across the stage.

“It just wasn’t enough,” McCall said. “We had to decide who gets to come and who had to stay home.”

Jeneen Simmons, from New Jersey, suggested using a bigger venue in order to seat everyone without using a ticketing system. Overflow rooms providing a live stream of the ceremonies would also allow more people to attend graduation, Simmons said.

“There has to be a better system,” Simmons said.

Carolina Forest High offered extra seating in the school’s auditorium with a live stream of the graduation to people who could not fit into the gym. Gaye Driggers, principal, said each student received six tickets – five for gym seating and one for an auditorium seat – and were given extra auditorium seats if they became available.

About 380 students graduated Thursday, Driggers said.

The ceremony is always held in the school by the graduates’ request; seniors “want to graduate in the place they’ve come to love,” she said.

“I ask the senior class every year where they want their graduation to be held, because it’s about them,” Driggers said. “The whole day should be about them.”

The auditorium and its overflow seating was a good solution to a lack of space, according to Lorraine Oliver, grandmother of Carolina Forest graduate Tyler Steele. All graduation ceremonies were projected onto a screen at the front of the auditorium, so Oliver could watch her grandson walk across the stage.

“I thought it was pretty cool,” she said. “The rest of my family came from out of state, so at least they got to see the graduation in person.”

Oliver said it would have been best if the whole family could have watched the graduation together, but understands space restrictions for such a large graduating class. She’s just thankful extra family and friends could watch from a different room.

“And there’s so much extra room in here, it’s great,” Oliver added.

North Myrtle Beach High graduates – more than 200 in all – were each awarded six tickets to their ceremony held at The Alabama Theatre on Thursday. For some students, six seats were just enough.

“I think that’s the perfect amount; I even had two extra tickets,” said Lauren Linta.

But for others, six was too few for people with bigger families. Graduate Brittney Graham said students were searching for extra tickets Thursday morning so friends and extended family could attend the ceremony. She said some people were selling their extra tickets for $60 each.

“Six is just a normal person’s household; it’s definitely not enough for everybody,” Graham said.

Shirley Moore, who was attending her granddaughter’s graduation Thursday, said she had to cut some people from the attendance list after learning about the ticket restrictions. She suggested a bigger venue that can seat more people, such as an arena or outside coliseum.

“We, and I’m sure others, had a lot more people that wanted to come,” Moore said.

Linta, graduate, didn’t think an outside venue would be a good choice during the warm South Carolina summer.

“It’s too humid outside,” she said. “It would not be fun.”

Contact CLAIRE BYUN at 626-0381 and follow her on Twitter @Claire_TSN.

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