High cost graduation tickets yield harsh responses, talk of change

Lea Lunden, a psychology major, says the price is too high, at 85 dollars per ticket, for her and her family to attend her department's graduaton celebration that will be held on the Hornblower— a local yacht in San Francisco. Photo by Virginia Tieman / Xpress

Lea Lunden, a psychology major, says the price is too high, at 85 dollars per ticket, for her and her family to attend her department's graduaton celebration that will be held on the Hornblower— a local yacht in San Francisco. Photo by Virginia Tieman / Xpress

Three of the four years of her college career, Lea Lunden worked anywhere from 25 to 40 hours a week as a server while pursuing her dream of being a psychology researcher. In her senior year, she injured herself while moving furniture at work and was diagnosed with scoliosis.

Many students may have backed down, but a dedicated Lunden is now ready to graduate after a grueling four years of school and work with honors as the president of the SF State chapter of Psi Chi, a national honors society for psychology students. She even interned at one of New York University’s research labs, one of the most prestigious universities in the country.

All Lunden wanted was for her father and grandmother to see her graduate and walk the stage as proudly as she’s walked through school; to have her determination recognized.

She’s not getting that wish.

The San Francisco Chronicle broke the news of Lunden’s struggle with SF State’s psychology department. The department is charging $85 a ticket for a graduation “celebration” aboard a local yacht called the Hornblower, a price that Lunden and many other students say is too high and would stop their families from seeing them graduate.

A family of four, plus the graduating student, would end up paying $425 to hear the graduate’s name called, and see them walk the stage. Notably, students must purchase tickets and they are the same price as for their families or guests.

Though the school has a formal graduation ceremony, many departments have their own ceremony because there are too many students graduating at once to read individual names. Therefore, each department has a smaller ceremony, called a “celebration” or “recognition ceremony,” where they are able to read names of individual students.

It was when Lunden tried to organize an alternative celebration ceremony that she was rebuked by the chair of the psychology department, Dr. Julia Lewis.

Lunden presented a survey of 40 psychology students who shared personal stories of financial hardship, and why they would not attend the yacht celebration, which 60 more students also signed. Her pleas fell on deaf ears.

According to email conversations between Lewis and Lunden, Lewis pressed Lunden to cease seeking an alternative venue.

“I understand that you have had a conversation with Dr. Howell who explained to you why the department cannot sponsor more than one graduation-related event. That event is the Hornblower,” Lewis wrote. “I am willing to meet with you again to discuss this and hopefully to achieve understanding and closure.”

In an email between a psychology student, who asked not to be named, and John Michael Cable, the psychology department office coordinator, Cable acknowledged that the department is aware of the problem, and despite that, chose to continue with the Hornblower.

“I can understand your frustration,” Cable wrote. “The department knows that the cost of the Hornblower event will price some families out of attending.”

Lewis offered a response to the situation with Lunden via email. She pointed out that it was Lunden’s group, Psi Chi, that asked for the yacht cruise in the first place.

“Ms. Lunden represents Psi Chi, the Psychology Honor Association. It was Psi Chi who, five years ago, found the Hornblower and initiated the celebration on the Hornblower,” Lewis wrote.

She also added that only this past year did the price jump up, due to the Hornblower’s rates increasing. Previous years, the graduation ceremony was $55 per ticket, Lewis wrote. But that price is still well above most departments’ ticket price for their own ceremonies.

Student and management major Colin Mahin, 25, is the president of the Management Organization for Business Students — a group on campus whose sole and only purpose is to raise money and find a venue for business students to celebrate graduation.

Mahin whistled loud when he heard how much the Hornblower yacht cruise would cost per ticket for psychology department graduates. At first, he didn’t quite believe it.

“I personally would be totally on for going on a yacht, that sounds amazing,” he said. “But at the same time I’ve seen hesitance from students on paying even 20 dollars to go (to a graduation celebration).”

An informal survey of numerous departments at SF State shows that the psychology department has one of the highest rates for graduation celebration tickets. Most departments surveyed had free ceremonies, or ceremonies costing $25 or less.

One exception was the English department, which has no ceremony separate from the University’s main graduation.

Change may be coming next year. In his comment to The Chronicle, University President Leslie E. Wong said that the University would revisit the structure of graduation school wide in which Lewis agreed.

“In his statement to the Chronicle President Wong expressed his vision that next year commencement will be structured so that all graduating students will have a chance to have their names called and recognized,” Lewis said in an email.  “We support this vision.”

Lewis may support Wong changing the way graduations are run, but she hasn’t welcomed it in her department.

Lunden said the psychology department tried to stop her from forming a student-run committee to find a cheaper alternative, but elsewhere in the University, some departments have adopted the practice successfully for years.

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  • As a graduating Psychology student at San Francisco State University, I can honestly say that Ms. Lunden does NOT represent the majority’s voice. I can also attest to a much larger data set than what she has provided the press- skewing the poll results to her favor. I understand that the Hornblower reception cruise is pricey, however, as incoming Psychology students (both freshmen and transfer students) we were polled in regards to the increased ticket prices and were (at that time) offered the possibility of an alternative option. Being that all Psychology students were polled (anywhere from 2-4 years ago), it provided each and every student the opportunity to save minimal amounts of money each month- over years- to plan for our future recognition reception. Importantly, had students spoken up sooner, adjustments could have been made or arrangements such as fundraising could have been organized to offset costs for students with financial hardships. In my opinion, Ms. Lunden could have made much better use of her time (and position as President of Psi Chi) fundraising for financially strapped students than trying to change the already existing celebration at the last minute. This entire situation is a prime example of one student organizing for her own personal gain despite the resounding voice of the majority of her peers.

    • It’s sad when people:

      (1) people make unsubstantiated claims; “despite the resounding voice of the majority of her peers.”
      Yet, last year, only about 80 of the 300 graduating seniors attended the cruise. Indeed no reasonable person would call the percent of attendance a “majority.”

      (2) don’t understand what they read;
      Quoting the SF Chronicle, “ACCORDING TO THE DEPARTMENT, just 50 of the 300 students were surveyed. And of those, 20 said they would pay more than $75.” Further, “MORE THAN 100 students signed…[the petition for a formal ceremony other than the horn blower]”

      At least Lunden is backed by more than 100 of her peers; not only is this amount more than the number of people who attended the horn blower celebration last year, but it is also more than the amount of students Sweet thing can provide when claiming the “resounding voice of the majority of her peers.”

      As for fundraising, even if she fundraised enough money for everyone and their family to go, the boat can’t accommodate everyone as shown by the email from the department stating “Space is limited, so act early to reserve your space.”

      Last…if you read the articles you would realize Lunden isn’t AGAINST the horn blower, she was merely pushing for an alternative option at a lower price that could even be in addition to the yacht. If the psychology departments precious horn blower is so widely supported, what would it matter that there be an additional lower cost ceremony?

      Read more: http://www.sfchronicle.com/education/article/Students-question-high-priced-graduation-4398938.php#ixzz2QQ3HD33J

    • Sara, as a graduating senior myself I can attest that firstly, I have no knowledge whatsoever of this larger data set you speak of, nor of the polling the psych dept apparently did several years ago (I have been on this campus for longer than you have probably been born). Furthermore, I want to know why wasn’t this data (the one you speak of) made available through the psych department. I am referring to the data the psych department provided to the SF Chronicle’s article.

      Secondly, I want to point out that it is incredibly rude to accuse someone of personally gaining something out of all this, without just and sound reasoning. I as well would prefer having a ceremony where I could invite my children and grandchildren to come; at a cost we could afford, does that also make me someone who is out for self gain? I can assure you that if it wasn’t Lea, it would have been another student. I also do not believe Lea’s objective was to create conflict out of this situation, nor to achieve some type of personal gain. It is offensive to me, and to the rest of the students (I am sure) that your choice in words are clearly uncalled for and poorly chosen. I have seen this young woman do so much for her school, and brought so many other organizations and workshops for psychology students as well. It is very disappointing that you or anyone else would speak of her in this regard with such animosity (especially on an online comment section nonetheless).

      Thirdly, the polling you speak of which was from 2-4 years ago do not represent the graduating class of this year. From Lea’s survey polling 100+ students of this year’s graduating class agreed that they would prefer to have another ceremony get this -in addition- to the hornblower. She has never once said to me, nor to Psi Chi, or any other psychology student I am aware of, that her motive was to cancel the hornblower and make this ceremony the primary psych ceremony. She, like many other students, want a second ceremony that everyone can attend too. Would you also agree that if I polled transfer and freshman students several years ago, that the data would be out of date, especially when a new polling has been conducted that stated otherwise? I agree that perhaps students could have started saving towards graduation (like many would saving towards college) however I would say you would be missing the point of Lea’s argument. It is not about the start of saving for the hornblower; but why such an expensive sole ceremony exists, and why there is not a second more affordable ceremony for those who could not afford the hornblower.

      Lastly, there is a saying in the South “Never count your blessings until you know they’re there.” It means that looking at everything retrospectively, we can look back and say how we could have done this differently, as much as we want. But that’s not how it always works out. Had most of the students known that the hornblower was their only ceremony, you bet they would have done something sooner. Heck, I would have done something sooner as well. But it is not Psi Chi’s responsibility to allocate their time in such a manner as you suggested. I respect your opinion, however anything said after-the-fact is just nay say. The point is that it is too late in the game to cancel the hornblower (and no one is expecting it either), however if it is possible to have a second recognition ceremony for the deserving graduating class, and there is nothing other than the department discouraging it; why shouldn’t there be a second ceremony that is more affordable? What harm would it do to the psych department? I cannot fathom why the department would be so against another ceremony for those who cannot afford to attend the hornblower.

  • I have to disagree with the prior poster Sarah, they did not have enough time to fundraise as the prices were not told to anyone immediately per my understanding of both articles. This is about the students graduation not the psychology department and all students voices have a right to be heard without being shut down. Granted sometimes the paper makes this louder than they actually are, as costs for students go up, we need to find more ways to keep costs of graduation down for ALL students not just a few who can afford to send their entire families

  • I agree, Carlos and Raquel. I am confused as to how 20 students saying they would pay more that $75 (the hornblower being $85 PER person) is a majority, while a petition with 100 signatures of current graduating psychology students is not. The department provided the reporter with the data from a survey taken, not MIss Lunden. If there was a survey given with responses that were more supportive of the hornblower, why wouldn’t the department provide the reporter with THAT data? Why would they chose to give the reporter the data that they did if a more representative sample was taken that was in favor of the hornblower? A new survey may need to be implemented where ALL graduating seniors are asked of their opinions of the current form of recognition, not only the price that they would be willing to pay for it, but also if they would rather have an actual graduation ceremony at a much lower cost. I feel that some people may be misinterpreting the aim of Miss Lunden’s attempts, while she is clearly not attacking the hornblower or doubting that is is a very enjoyable celebration. It, however, simply does not take the place of a graduation ceremony, and that is the issue. The fact that not all students would be able to attend, even if the cost was affordable for all, is completely unfair and not serving the students’ needs. This would be the case regardless of fundraising by Psi Chi or any other organization. The fact that students have an opportunity to “win tickets” to the hornblower is very unnerving to me as well. I, as well as many other psychology students I feel, were under the impression that the psychology department had a graduation ceremony accessible for all its students, as many other departments do. Once we found out that that was not the case, we acted quickly. It is unfortunate that some students do not see this or interpret our attempts to create a fair and equitable graduation ceremony, that all students deserve regardless of major, as “personal gains” of some sort. I would hope that a fellow student representative would be more supportive and understanding of all students’ voices.

  • IF there is one thing I learned over the past year and a half at SFSU is that some departments and faculty have their “kingdoms”, in academia and change takes a long time and meets resistance. The biggest issue I had with all of the articles on this is Lea’s rights as a student and person to object to this and “being shut down” on the issue and “rebuked”. The costs are just icing on the cake so to speak. We are an academic society of students with the right to speak on something whether we agree with it or not and propose change whether or not that change is approved. While “yes” the paper does tend to sometimes sensationalize things After emailing Lea I have found this to not be the case and most of it if not all was true. In regards to the “win tickets”, SFSU policy overall may not allow this depending on the wording. It may be considered “gambling” which is not allowed on SFSU campus, we cannot use words such as “raffle”. I really hope that both sides here can come to an amicable agreement.

  • Hey everyone! The graduating seniors that started a survey about the horn blower celebration, etc. just want to clear the air on everything to do with the recognition ceremony and the horn blower:

    We are not AGAINST the horn blower celebration, NOR is our intention to cancel the event.

    We ARE however, in support of an additional lower cost recognition ceremony for the students who cannot afford to attend the ceremony, or are not able to go on the boat due to the limited space. Or those who have family members that cannot attend the celebration on a boat.

    We have been planning an alternative ceremony since the beginning of February. This is not a last minute effort on our part.

    We understand the department’s efforts to give the students a recognition ceremony and appreciate that. We are not trying to stop anything that has been planned. We have simply requested the support of an additional, more accessible and equitable ceremony.