- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2003

Grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members are being excluded from high school commencements because DAR Constitution Hall has eliminated nearly 400 seats this year, parents of Montgomery County students said this week.

JoAnn Lasko said her parents canceled plans to travel from Oklahoma to see their grandson, Michael, graduate Tuesday from Winston Churchill High School because of the ticket shortage.

“I called them and told them I couldn’t guarantee that I could get them a ticket,” she said.

The historic downtown theater — host to many District, Maryland and Virginia graduations — lost 380 of its 3,700 seats when the Washington Opera moved in last year. The opera’s regular home at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is undergoing renovations that are scheduled for completion by winter.

The problem is that classes are getting bigger while there are no venues large enough in Montgomery County and few in the region that can accommodate a large graduating class and guests.

“So there is a premium placed on extra tickets,” said Brian Porter, spokesman for Montgomery County public schools. “We are doing the best we can.”

He also said alternatives such as the “cavernous” MCI Center or the Comcast Center on the University of Maryland campus are too large compared with Constitution Hall’s “intimate” setting.

Constitution Hall officials said yesterday that they informed Montgomery County administrators about the changes roughly 18 months ago.

“We are trying to get along,” said April L. Watkins, the venue’s spokeswoman. “We are trying to be helpful.”

Mr. Porter said last night that principals at the 20 schools informed parents about the number of tickets they would receive. However, he had no specific information about how and when each principal told the families. Mr. Porter also said he was pleased with the amount of cooperation from Constitution Hall employees.

Churchill gave six tickets to each of its 449 graduating students, or 2,694 tickets. Thomas S. Wootton High School in Rockville is giving four tickets to each of the 472 families who will have students graduate Wednesday.

Last year, families received twice as many tickets for 455 students. Seniors at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda who graduated yesterday each received five tickets.

Which was hardly enough for many parents forced to scramble at the last minute.

Lisa Brown said when she logged on to Whitman’s Web site to find people willing to give away extra tickets she found many families already in line.

Her son, William, was going to be the first grandchild his grandmother would have seen graduate.

But she could not get a ticket.

“Even last night, there were like 30 to 40 families desperately looking for tickets,” Mrs. Brown said yesterday. “I just decided that five was enough.”

Some seniors scored extra tickets from classmates who are twins or triplets and received two or three times the allotment.

Others just persevered.

“We made a lot of phone calls,” said Susan Klueger, mother of graduating Churchill senior, Daniel, 18.

Lyndon Baker said 15 guests saw him graduate at Constitution Hall in the late 1980s. However, he could get only six for his son’s graduation Tuesday.

The situation had some parents saying the ceremonies should be moved.

“It’s more important for [the children] to have the family members whom they love and care for there,” said Bonnie Barker, whose daughter, Alison, graduated from Churchill.

The 18 rows of seats removed to accommodate the opera will be replaced before the 2004 ceremonies, but the ticket problem will most likely continue.

Next year’s graduating class at Churchill should have about 70 more student than this year’s class.

Evelyn Flaherty, whose brother Patrick also graduated Tuesday from Churchill, said the ticket shortage seems to have gotten worse since she graduated from Walt Whitman in 1992. Her family got the last of seven tickets it needed about an hour before the ceremony.

“My brother called me last week and said I might have to wear my sexy dress so I could get past the people at the door,” she said.

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