Student demand for tickets to this year’s Meliora Weekend keynote address by President Bill Clinton was the greatest in the highly-anticipated weekend’s history, according to Executive Director of Alumni Relations Kevin Wesley.
Despite brewing student controversy over the way tickets were distributed and the high level of online traffic that made registration nearly impossible this summer, Wesley says Alumni Relations was prepared to meet the unprecedented demand and did everything they could to ensure that students had a fair shot at seeing the live address.
Currently, 1,185 students have tickets to either the live event or the simulcast, and this week’s lottery will distribute 200 more free tickets to the live keynote address.
This year’s address will be delivered in the Eastman School of Music’s Kodak Hall, which seats 2,326 people — 600 more than the Palestra on the River Campus, the site of the keynote speeches for the last five years.
Alumni Relations went to great lengths to ensure that there were more simulcasts of the live speech this year because of the iconic speaker, Wesley said. The speech will be simulcast in the Palestra, Strong Auditorium, the Class of ’62 Auditorium and Eastman’s Kilbourn Hall.
The decision to add an additional simulcast in Strong Auditorium was made early on the morning of Monday, Aug. 22, the day the online registration site went live in response to the “huge demand” seen by Alumni Relations staff monitoring the site.
All simulcasts, which are free of charge (unlike the $30 cost of admission to the live event) are currently sold out.
“We are constrained a bit by the facilities that we have,” Wesley said. “We do not have a space that can fit everyone.”
The complexities of ticket distribution were compounded by the variety of interests Meliora Weekend caters to.
“Meliora Weekend is for many different audiences — [it is]parents weekend, homecoming weekend and reunion weekend,” Wesley said. “What we try to do every year is balance accessibility to tickets across all the groups.”
To placate these interests, Alumni Relations took what Wesley calls a “small bucket of tickets” and gave reunion alumni early access — a few days to purchase tickets prior to Monday, Aug. 22 when registration went live. Wesley said the alumni were told that “once those tickets are gone, you can try with everyone else when registration goes live.”
Another “small bucket of tickets” was reserved for the George Eastman Circle, key supporters of UR who have been “very generous in their contributions to the University,” Wesley said.
A special edition of the Weekly Buzz sent to students on Aug. 19 stated that “there will be a special opportunity for students to receive tickets to the keynote address free of charge” and that details on how to obtain the “limited number of reserved tickets just for students” would be made available in September.
Wesley said that UR specifically set aside 200 free tickets for students to win in the lottery, which was announced in the Sept. 4 Weekly Buzz with a statement that read: “Due to the overwhelming response from students interested in tickets for President Clinton’s live keynote address at Meliora Weekend, a limited number of student tickets for the event will now be determined by a random electronic lottery later this month.”
The opening of the lottery was announced on Sunday, Sept. 18. The lottery closes Friday, Sept. 23 and students will be notified on Monday, Sept. 26.
“We wanted to make sure everyone had a chance to secure a ticket,” Wesley said. “It was very important to me and also to President Clinton’s office that students got to see the live Keynote address.”
Alumni Relations has also saved several tickets to the live event to distribute to student leaders in various campus activity groups. These tickets were proportionally allocated to every school at the University in order to “give a representative sampling of student leaders,” Wesley said.
As of Wednesday morning, Wesley said only 521 students had put their name in the lottery, a surprising result possibly resulting from student resentment about the difficulty of obtaining a ticket.
“I don’t agree with the lottery,” junior Meghan Sullivan, who has not been able to secure tickets to the live keynote address or a simulcast version, said. “I think the lottery idea was kind of stupid. It should have just been first-come, first-served.”
Other students missed the lottery publicity completely and said more effort should have been made to publicize the event.
“I didn’t even know when it was,” junior Chris Wright said. “I get that the venue can only fit so many people, but I [do not] think a lottery is fair.”
Wright said he has no interest in attending a simulcast, and that this was the first speaker that has interested him since he’s been a student at UR. He also said that students should have gotten more priority over alumni in the ticket distribution.
Wesley would not give exact details about the number of alumni who already have tickets.
“Since basically no one was able to get tickets, I think it’s a good alternative and definitely better than nothing,” senior Sarah Cohen said of the lottery decision. She added that she can “see both sides” to what some students say is the unfairness of giving alumni an advantage in obtaining seats to the keynote address.
“These are the people giving money to the school, after all, so I can understand it,” she said. “I do think they could have provided more options for watching it, maybe [by] broadcasting it online.”
This is the first keynote address that she has had any interest in attending, but she said she is uncertain if she will attend a simulcast.
“I think they should have given the opportunities to students first,” freshman Emily Dubin, who was in favor of the lottery, said. “A lot of alumni come, and I know it’s a big event for them, but they had their time here and their fun events. This [weekend] should be for us.”
Sophomore Natalie Molta said she was on her computer “right away” on the day tickets went on sale, but still had no luck. Her parents got seats to a simulcast.
“I get the first-come, first-serve idea, but even people there two minutes later didn’t get in, so I think the lottery can make things a little more even,” she said. “Maybe they should have done it by time priority, though, and given people who entered [the lottery] earlier more points.”
Senior Lian Law, who got a ticket to the live event during the summer online registration, thinks the idea of first-come, first-served is fair in theory, but that “many people who actually should have gotten them in the first place were unable to.”
“Perhaps setting aside a certain amount of first-come, first-served tickets for students and a certain amount for alumni would help to even the odds,” she said.
Despite the charged situation and variety of student opinions, Wesley emphasized that the keynote address is only one of more than 200 campus events this Meliora Weekend and encourages students and families to make an effort to attend the simulcast in case tickets open up.
Buletti is a member of the class of 2013.