Seating limitations for the 2023 commencement ceremony

Daniel Ketchelos —Staff writer 

Larger class sizes have made finding a space for Dordt University graduates, faculty, and guests harder for the commencement ceremony. The 2023 graduating class size is 365, which is larger than the previous 2022 graduating class which had 312. Due to the larger class size, graduates are limited to two tickets for guests with the option to request two additional tickets if enough seats are available. 

Many graduating students are upset with the two-ticket restriction because they want more family members and friends to attend the physical ceremony. While there is a restriction to seating in the B.J. Haan, in 2022 the Dordt Administration allowed for overflow seating in the DeWitt to accommodate the increased number of people on Dordt’s campus. 

“First, of all the spaces on campus, [the B.J. Haan Auditorium] has the highest fire marshal capacity. So, it’s the biggest space we’ve got,” Jim Bos, the Dordt University Registrar, said. “Second, we’ve really taken the approach that commencement, is at least in part, a worship experience. The environment of the B.J. Haan provides that and sets a different environment that other spaces don’t have.” 

The number of tickets is calculated based on the number of graduating students divided by the seating capacity of the B.J. Haan at 1424. Seating for faculty and graduates is also considered since they take up a portion of the available seats. 

“This year, we gave two tickets to graduates with the ability to request one or two extra tickets,” Bos said. “We aren’t going to be able to give everyone two extra tickets, but most people will likely get at least one extra ticket for a total of three.” 

Some students would prefer to have more family members seated inside the B.J. Haan ceremony compared to having family and friends in the DeWitt overflow watching a live stream broadcast. 

“For me, it’s quite annoying as I have family driving 25 hours over two days just to see me graduate, yet only my mom and dad can sit in the B.J. Haan while my grandparents and siblings have to watch on the live stream—which they could do from home,” Noah Jansen, a senior agri-business major from Canada, said. “I think [Dordt] going to a bigger area makes total sense, as many of the people who drive so far to watch graduation would be more than willing to go the extra drive to sit and watch the graduation in person.” 

In the past, Dordt has considered using a larger convention center for the commencement ceremony. 

“In the past, we considered but didn’t proceed with using the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City,” Bos said. “That space proposes its own logistical problems with getting everyone to Sioux City and based on previous feedback preferring an on-campus ceremony.” 

Other students understand the limitations but would like to see Dordt pursue other location options for the commencement ceremony. 

“I think having two tickets [for guests] makes sense given the space available in the B.J. Haan, but it can also be frustrating as most graduates have more than two guests they would like to have attend the ceremony,” Emma McGaughey, a senior graphic design major, said. “If there were a place that could accommodate a larger number of people that would be nice to use instead, but since Sioux Center doesn’t have a larger event center, I think Dordt could almost use the football field or the ASB sports complex.” 

These proposed solutions have been considered by the Dordt administration, but they also come with other logistical challenges. 

“The football stadium is outdoors, and we just haven’t been able to deal with the uncertainties of the weather. It’s May in Iowa and in the past tornado sirens have gone off, it snowed, and the wind has blown 40 miles an hour and none of that makes for a very good experience,” Bos said. “As for the ASB Sports Complex, believe it or not, from a fire marshal perspective it is less than half the size of the B.J. Haan. Since there are no sprinklers and because of the pressurized exits it only has room for 400 people compared to 1424 in the B.J. Haan.” 

The Sioux Center High School is the only option with more seating in Sioux Center compared to the B.J. Haan Auditorium. Based on the logistics of taking a school day from the high school, the commencement ceremony would need to be moved to a Saturday if it occurred in the high school gym. 

“We have tried to preserve the ceremony as a meaningful event for the students and we really want to keep all the students together and let at least some immediate family get in the building and everybody else gets an excellent experience,” Bos said. “If we had a bigger indoor space, we would definitely give it consideration but for now it [B.J. Haan Auditorium] is the biggest one that the fire Marshall will let us meet in.” 

The 2023 Dordt University Commencement Ceremony will take place at 10 a.m. on Friday, May 12, 2023, in the B.J. Haan Auditorium. 

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