Seat saving, hotel prices make commencement an expensive affair

by Andrew Culver | 5/7/19 2:10am

5-7-19-commencement-divyakopalle

Commencement at Dartmouth always brings large crowds to the Green — leading to the practice of seat saving. 

by Divya Kopalle / The Dartmouth Senior Staff

With around 10,000 people expected to come to Hanover for commencement weekend, hotel rooms and commencement seats come at a high price. 

Dartmouth’s 2019 commencement weekend will take place from Friday, June 7 to Sunday, June 9, with the main ceremony taking place that day. Each year, Dartmouth’s graduation sees around 10 to 11 thousand visitors to campus, executive director for conferences and events Ernest Kiefer said.

With the high number of visitors to campus come high hotel prices and limited availability. At the Norwich Inn just across the river in Norwich, VT, a standard room for graduation costs around $470 a night with a three-night minimum stay and non-refundable full payment at the time of reservation, making the total cost for the weekend around $1500 — not including tax, according to Norwich Inn employee Kate Ohaus. 

Ohaus said that the chance to reserve a room for graduation weekend at the Norwich Inn comes by invitation only. Each year, the Inn sends out reservation invitations about a year in advance to frequent guests. Priority is given to former guests based on the total number of nights they have stayed at the Inn previously, Ohaus said. 

Six South Street Hotel in Hanover has a similar model with a non-refundable three-night minimum stay with rooms at $809 dollars a night, according to the hotel’s website. Guests with the “highest number of room nights” stayed at the hotel previously will be given first priority for reservation, according to Six South Street’s website. A three-night stay for commencement — if a person is even given priority to book the reservation — would cost a guest $2,427. 

The Hanover Inn, the closest hotel to campus, is completely reserved by the College, which then allocates the rooms mainly to special guests and members of the class celebrating their 50th anniversary, according to Hanover Inn general manager Brian Hunt. Only the limited rooms not used by the College are allocated to individuals on the Hanover Inn’s graduation wait list which opens a year in advance. Hunt said that any available rooms would be upwards of $500 dollars a night with a minimum stay of three nights.

However, the College does offer a much lower cost alternative to high hotel rates. For $50 a night per person, families are able to stay in any unoccupied residence hall room, according to Kiefer.

Kiefer said that the College is typically able to accommodate all the families seeking housing in residence halls.

College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email statement that more 2,000 beds are available for commencement guests on campus. 

Kiefer added that while residence hall rooms do not come with the amenities of a hotel, they are a lower cost alternative and are within walking distance of the graduation ceremony and events.

In addition to the cost of a hotel room, ensuring a good seat at commencement ceremonies can increase the bill for graduation. 

There are around 9,000 seats on the Green for commencement, which is not enough seats for the total number of attendees, Kiefer said. However, he said that he believes “anyone who wants a seat can get a seat,” adding that some commencement guests, such as those with pets or small children, do not want to sit on the Green for the entire ceremony.

All graduation seats — with the exception of those reserved for the Board of Trustees, faculty, the 50th anniversary class who march each year, graduating students and special guests of the College — are first-come, first-served and open early the morning of graduation, Kiefer said.

The open availability of seats gives rise to the popular practice of “seat saving,” in which an individual saves up to three seats for the family or friends of a graduate, often in exchange for financial compensation. 

While prices may vary between individuals offering saved seats, Brook Leigh ’22, a former student at Hanover High School, said that he has saved seats at $100 per seat in the past. Brook worked with a group of three other friends, saving a total of 12 seats between them. Leigh said that most seat saving is set up through friends and people who know commencement guests coming to town who want good seats reserved for the ceremony.  

Leigh added that when he saved seats, he was first allowed onto the Green at 5 a.m. on the day of commencement. Within 20 minutes, Leigh recalled that all the “prime seating” and “at least half” of the total seats were taken.

“It’s kind of wild,” Leigh added, citing the rush to save seats when the Green officially opens.

Kiefer said the College is aware of seat saving but “does not condone it.”

While on-campus accommodations are significantly less expensive than hotels, and high seat saving costs are by no means a requirement to attend the ceremony, the high cost of the weekend can still be prohibitive to some families. 

Lawrence wrote that while the College also provides free food at the graduation gala, there are no programs in place to help low-income families with the costs of attending graduation.

“Family members who cannot afford to travel to Hanover to watch the Sunday commencement in person can now view the ceremony via livestream with captioning,” Lawrence wrote.