DOVER — Delaware State University plans to consider capacity improvements for future graduation ceremonies after a venue change provided limited seating for attendees of last Saturday’s commencement.
DSU’s undergraduate commencement ceremony was originally scheduled to be held at Alumni Stadium, but due to forecasted thunderstorms, the graduation was moved to Memorial Hall. Ticket holders were permitted into Memorial Hall on a first-come, first-served basis. Once the hall reached capacity, attendees were directed to the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Center and the Education and Humanities Theatre for overflow viewing.
The venue change prevented many family members of undergraduate students from being admitted into Memorial Hall because of the limited capacity. Graduates were given 10 tickets each for family and other attendees, which led to the 1,800-seat arena quickly reaching capacity.
Alumni Stadium was eventually opened and used as an additional viewing area for attendees as the forecasted rain and thunderstorms held off for the beginning of the ceremony.
“Last Thursday, we made the difficult decision to move the undergraduate commencement ceremony inside due to the weather forecast. We communicated the contingency plan to the graduates throughout the process, but our indoor capacity limits constrained us significantly and prompted the university to establish overflow spaces on campus with video access to the ceremony,” university spokesperson Carlos Holmes said.
Doors opened for ticket holders at 8 a.m. Saturday, two hours before the beginning of the ceremony. Approximately one hour after the doors opened, the seating inside Memorial Hall was near capacity.
Despite these challenges, DSU ushers continuously helped guests find seating in Memorial Hall, guiding ticket holders into any open seating that became available. Additionally, ushers created a small standing-room area to the right of the stage, allowing for as many guests as safely possible.
Lines remained at the entrances to Memorial Hall throughout the ceremony as many ticket holders held hopes they would eventually find seating.
Readers alerted the Delaware State News about the capacity issues and lack of access to the ceremony through social media. They reported that ticket holders were not allowed inside once capacity was reached, leaving many parents to wait outside of the Memorial Hall doors and watch the ceremony livestream via YouTube.
“We know how important this moment is for so many families. We realize that cannot make up for the disappointment of those who were unable to be in Memorial Hall on May 14 and we sincerely regret this unintended outcome,” Mr. Holmes said.
“Given our tremendous growth over the past few years, we are discussing capacity improvements for next spring, up to and including ceremonies by the college.”
From 2009 to 2019, the university’s enrollment numbers expanded by 40%, a trend that has continued into this school year. The fall 2021 semester saw many record-breaking growth metrics for DSU, including a 9.7% rise in undergraduate enrollment, a 75.1% freshman retention rate, a 67% increase in Inspire Scholars, and a student body of 5,649, the university’s largest to date.
DSU’s rapid growth was especially evident last year, as the university made history by acquiring nearby Wesley College, marking the first time a Historically Black College or University has acquired another higher-education institution.
In a July 2021 press conference after the announcement became official, DSU President Dr. Tony Allen said the university plans to eventually increase its student population to 10,000.