An evening of pomp and circumstance at the UA’s 150th Commencement Ceremony lost some of its showiness when students tried to cope with an evening of unbearable heat and overcrowding that left many of the 4,000 graduates taking to social media to complain about long waits, a lack of water and classmates passing out.
“We were all in that tiny little space, crammed like cattle,” graduate Sara Brenner said of the outdoor holding area students waited in for hours at Arizona Stadium. “We were shoulder to shoulder with strangers it felt so hot, everyone was sweaty, there was nowhere to move, there was no one telling us what was going on.”
Graduates were told to arrive at the stadium at 5:30 p.m. for the 7:30 p.m. ceremony and had to wait in an outdoor area under the stadium. They said they had to walk on to the field single file so each person could be shown on the big screen, which made the procession last more than an hour and a half.
About 4,000 graduates RSVP’d for the event, about 1,000 more than RSVP’d for last year’s ceremony, said Andrea Smiley, a UA spokeswoman.
Earlier this year the UA eliminated its winter graduation ceremony.
Brenner said she was among the first to arrive at the stadium, but was among the last to walk out onto the field because people kept being told to move to the back of the holding area as the crowd grew.
The temperature was 99 degrees at 5:30 p.m., according to the National Weather Service. Last year, the first time the University of Arizona held its spring graduation at the stadium in several years, the temperature topped off at 87 degrees. It was also held a week before this year’s event.
She said there was some water and cups but it ran out.
When she did make it onto the field seats were filled and students were told to sit in the stadium behind a video screen, Brenner said.
“To tell us to sit behind the bleachers where no one could see us, where we couldn’t see the ceremony was so incredibly rude after what they put us through,” she said.
She and others sat in the grass until empty seats were found or extras were brought out.
Smiley, the UA spokeswoman, said that overall the event was well-received but some people had a “less than ideal experience.”
“We’re sorry for that. We’re taking all of the events of last night into consideration when we debrief and plan for next year. We very much appreciate everybody’s candor in sharing their experience with us and their perspective, but overall people had a great time,” she said.
Graduate Grace Lo said she others were upset but she wasn’t bothered by the experience.
“I was really satisfied with it, I kind of knew what to expect and I wasn’t upset about waiting at all it was just boring, it didn’t really bother me,” she said.
Graduate Chris Sogge, said he saw one girl faint and another who was so drunk she was falling over and had to be supported by a friend. He said staff worked hard to help students get water and remain orderly.
“I think they weren’t really a part of planning the logistics of the event and were trying to be peacekeepers and I think they did a lot of hard work that should be recognized,” he said.
However he thought the event was poorly planned.
“I paid a lot of money to go to the institution and it’s something I wished they had planned out more so I could have enjoyed my night but as it stands I really regret going,” he said.
At least a dozen people, including graduates and attendees had to be treated for heat-related issues, and two or three were taken to the hospital, said Sgt. Filbert Barrera, a University of Arizona Police Department spokesman.
He said he gave out about six cases of water meant for officers from UAPD’s command post.
Some people were drunk and one section in the holding area “reaked of puke,” said Sabrina Ball.
She said nobody checked to see if graduates had actually RSVP’d and saw one student graduated last year show up in his cap and gown to be with his friends.
JJ Katz, another graduate, said he was disappointed by the conditions graduates had to deal with and said it took so long for the actual ceremony to start some of his family members were “fed up” and left.
“It was definitely a really cool ceremony, the fireworks were really neat... but it’s so hard to enjoy something so neat when you’ve been treated so poorly,” he said.