Graduation ceremonies are usually joyous occasions as family and friends come together to celebrate a loved one finishing college.
That was not the case for everyone who wanted to attend Sacramento State’s College of Health and Human Services commencement on Saturday morning. Some were turned away from seeing their graduate receive a diploma when Sleep Train Arena security guards barred the doors once the venue filled.
“It is clear that our graduation ceremonies have become so large that we must change our processes,” Elisa Smith, the university’s director of news and communications, wrote in an email.
The College of Health and Human Services had the largest graduating class of all seven colleges that held commencement ceremonies over the weekend, according to Sacramento State’s Facebook page. Its class of 1,268 had 135 more students than the next-largest college.
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Noemi Aquino said she arrived just as a security guard told people they weren’t allowed into the arena. Aquino said that eventually some in the crowd pushed their way past the guard at the entrance.
Aquino said she was approaching the entrance when more security guards came from inside the arena and started to force people back outside. After that, security officials told the crowd of hundreds that the commencement ceremony was over, even as some people showed them Facebook Live videos on their phones that were streaming the ceremony as it continued inside, she said.
Guards urged those who were turned away to move to the east tunnel, where graduates would leave the arena when the ceremony was finished, she said.
“There were mothers, children, relatives very evidently saddened and upset about not being able to see their loved ones graduate, yet I caught the security guards several times whispering and laughing amongst themselves about the situation,” Aquino said.
According to Sacramento State’s website, graduates were allowed to invite as many guests as they wanted and attendees were not required to have tickets.
Smith said the university didn’t restrict the numbers of guests each graduate could invite but asked the graduates to tell the university how many invitees were planning to attend. Those numbers were forwarded to Sleep Train Arena for planning purposes.
In a statement posted to the university’s web site, Vince A. Sales, vice president for university advancement, wrote: “To ensure the safety of all attendees, participants and staff, arena capacities are determined in advance. Once the arena reached capacity, the doors were closed, and some guests were unable to enter and view the ceremony.
“We apologize that this unfortunate situation inconvenienced any of our graduates and their families.”
Sales added that “for those who were unable to attend,” the university had posted photos and video on social media and that a video of the full commencement ceremony would be available in about a week.
Aquino said the commencement finished about an hour after the security guards told them to move toward the exits. Security guards assured the crowd that they would be reimbursed for their parking money – $15 per vehicle – but that was not important, Aquino said.
“No one cared about the money; they cared about being there to witness their loved ones accomplish a huge milestone in life,” Aquino said. “Moments like graduating college are priceless and cannot be reimbursed. I really hope Sac State learned their lesson about how essential it is to come up with an organized system for such big events.
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“To leave hundreds of families and even some graduates, who were supposed to be walking the stage, locked outside the venue is completely unacceptable.”
Students from the College of Engineering and Computer Science were among the Sacramento State graduates saluted during a ceremony Saturday, May 21, 2016 at Sleep Train Arena.
The Bee’s Jessica Hice contributed to this report.
Thomas Oide: 916-321-1009