Bakersfield College officials anticipate future graduations will operate more smoothly than Friday's commencement ceremony, which inadvertently kept hundreds of guests outside.
People filled seats, stood in aisles and even sat behind graduates on the ice rink in Rabobank Arena, but it was not enough to accommodate the more than 8,000 who wanted to catch a glimpse of friends and family members accepting their diplomas. As a result, doors to Rabobank had to be closed.
"Based off historical numbers, including the anticipated growth, we did not anticipate we would be this full," said Mike Giacomini, vice president of finance and administrative services, during Friday's ceremony. "We did not anticipate having anybody outside."
Brothers Jordan and Jon Mendoza said doors were closed by the time they arrived at 6:45 p.m.
“It sucks. … We’re trying to stick it out as much as we can,” Jordan Mendoza said Friday when asked how he felt about missing his cousin’s graduation. “You learn from it. Next time come a little earlier and plan ahead in case things like this happen.”
Guests waiting outside were heard pounding on the glass doors to be let inside.
The college expected around 8,000 guests, an increase of about 2,000 compared to last year, said Norma Rojas-Mora, BC communications director. Rabobank Arena can seat 10,000 people, however, a few sections were closed off because they were behind the screen, she said.
For those who did make it inside, many had to stand in aisles. College officials urged those seated to move to the center of their rows to fill empty seats so others could sit. Due to safety concerns, commencement ceremony officials announced they could not begin if people were standing.
Guests also were seated behind graduates on the floor of the arena. Once those seats were filled, additional guests could not be allowed inside, Rojas-Mora said.
"It was a safety issue, it was not our decision," she said. "From a Rabobank standpoint, we had to follow the rules and terms of accommodation."
Rojas-Mora said doors were later opened and people were allowed in the concourse area where televisions were turned on so they could watch as students' names were called.
This year marked a record-setting year for the college as there were 2,746 graduates and a total of 3,335 degrees awarded. Approximately 1,000 participated in the ceremony.
"It’s a wonderful thing to see so many students graduating and how our numbers have increased," Rojas-Mora said.
Roughly 900 participated in last year's ceremony, she said.
BC’s Memorial Stadium, where commencement is normally held, is undergoing renovations. The venue can seat 18,000 people.
Rojas-Mora said the college began preparing for graduation nine months in advance and "immediately looked to the largest venue that would accommodate the number of guests we’ve seen in the past."
Tickets were not issued prior to Friday's graduation to limit the number of guests because "it's never been a problem for us before," Giacomini said.
"We have more than enough room to accommodate at Memorial, we only use half the football field," he added. "This year we weren't anticipating the issue of being over capacity."
Next year's commencement will return to Memorial Stadium. When asked about introducing a ticket system to avoid similar problems, Rojas-Mora said that is something that would be discussed closer to graduation time if necessary.
"We’ll continue to ensure that graduation is a cause for celebration, and it is something that we as a community continue to embrace and look forward to," Rojas-Mora said.