Cal Poly students, staff, faculty and supporters will gather in less than two weeks to celebrate the 2019 Spring Commencement ceremony. Beyond the commencement ceremony, celebrations include graduation dinners, hotel accommodations and senior photos. The monumental occasion of graduating college comes with a price tag for both the university and its students.
According to University Spokesperson Matt Lazier, Cal Poly spends about $530,000 per year on commencement ceremonies. This includes staff pay, student assistants, supplies and related services.
The costs are covered by the $95 student commencement fee, Lazier wrote in an email to Mustang News.
The commencement fee is a one-time mandatory fee posted to all Cal Poly students’ accounts once their expected academic progress has reached 75 percent or higher, according to Cal Poly’s commencement website. The fee is charged regardless of whether or not a student decides to participate in commencement.
Lazier also wrote the costs are broken down into three categories: $156,000 for Salary and Benefits, $60,000 for Student Employees and $314,000 for Supplies and Services.
In addition to paying for the ceremony’s staff and supplies, the Commencement Office also pays for a keynote speaker. This year’s keynote speaker is Paul Wesselmann, also known as “The Ripples Guy,” who spoke to freshmen during Week of Welcome (WOW) in 2015.
Lazier wrote that the office generally does not budget for commencement keynote speaker fees and sometimes offers an honorarium to keynote speakers. Wesselmann, however, will receive $10,000 for his speech.
The $95 commencement fee is not the only expense for students and families when it comes to graduation. Regalia can cost around $88 for a cap, gown and sash, all necessary if a student wishes to participate in the ceremony.
Additionally, hotels in San Luis Obispo and the surrounding areas often fill up long before the event and can be expensive. Cal Poly SLO Mustang Parents Facebook page admin Traci Holmes Libby said hotel prices increase on major weekends like Mustang Family Weekend and move-in weekend and that the prices are highest for graduation weekend.
“Hotels that normally go for $150 a night will average around $300 to $400 a night for Friday through Sunday,” Libby said. “Many hotels in [San Luis Obispo] will double their prices for commencement weekend and will also require three-night minimums with non-refundable payment in full up-front.”
Libby also said that while hotels in surrounding areas like Morro Bay and Pismo Beach can be cheaper, they also raise their prices for popular weekends.
Some families, especially those with a lot of guests, avoid the battle of finding a reasonable hotel to accommodate a large group and instead rent houses for the weekend — but this too can be expensive.
Computer engineering senior Sydney Mendoza said she has 16 family members coming to celebrate her graduation.
“They had to rent a big house for everyone to stay in and get food for everyone,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza said her family has spent a few thousand dollars on graduation but that they are coming up with solutions to cut costs. Instead of going out to dinner after the ceremony, she said they are going to have a graduation brunch at the house they are renting. Additionally, Mendoza had a friend take her senior photos instead of paying a professional photographer.
Though the cost of graduation is expensive, Mendoza said her family was prepared.
“I feel like my family was expecting graduation to cost a lot, just because our family is big and they experienced this with my sister a few years ago,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza also said she thinks her family was okay with spending a lot on graduation weekend because of its significance in their lives.
“They know it’s a really big accomplishment, so they are willing to make a big celebration about it all,” Mendoza said.