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Ticket Scarcity Leads to Scalping

By Leon Neyfakh, Crimson Staff Writer

The black market for a rare Harvard commodity—Commencement tickets—has moved beyond open e-mail list exchanges, as at least two passes were advertised on the online auction site eBay, though both have since vanished.

When the Commencement Office caught wind of the online auctions on Thursday, House representatives on the senior class committee were asked to forward a message to their classmates warning them that the sale of Commencement tickets is prohibited, and that posting them on eBay is “not only in violation of University policy” but a breach of protocol and security.

According to Shannon S. Christmas ’04, a Lowell House representative on the senior class committee, the Commencement Office asked him to warn his fellow Lowell residents that selling tickets on eBay presented a “serious security risk.”

The presence of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, this year’s Commencement speaker, made the sales much more dangerous, Christmas said.

In an e-mail over the Lowell open-list, Christmas informed seniors that reselling tickets was an “Ad-Boardable offense,” and that local police, as well as authorities at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had learned of the online sales.

“It’s a huge security risk in terms of people who shouldn’t be at the commencement getting in,” he said. “[The authorities] have been pulling stuff off the eBay website.”

Harvard University Police Department spokesperson Steven G. Catalano downplayed the security risk presented by the sales, saying that Kofi Annan’s presence had already guaranteed maximum security at the event.

“All attendees entering with tickets will be screened and bags will be searched,” he said.

According to Katherine Richard, the Leverett House senior representative, at least two ticket auctions had been traced on eBay as of last Thursday, but by yesterday afternoon, only one remained.

Marc B. Hirsh, the Sociology graduate student responsible for posting the remaining auction said he had not been contacted by administrators. With approximately one selling day remaining, two people had bid on his ticket, and Hirsh’s initial asking price of $25 had jumped to $81.

“This is a single ticket to the morning Commencement exercises at Harvard on the morning of June 10, 2004,” Hirsh’s listing read. “It’s the standard ticket given to degree recipients.”

Hirsh posted his Harvard e-mail address at the bottom of the item description, noting that the ticket in question would have to be picked up in person the day of the ceremony. Hirsh said he had not heard about ticket sales being prohibited, but around 7:30 p.m. last night, he canceled the auction upon rereading the official rules.

“It was not my intent to violate University policy, so I am going to check to see if there’s anyone in my department who needs the extra ticket instead,” he said.

Commencement Director Grace Scheibner could not be reached for comment last night.

Exchanging tickets is a common practice, according to many seniors, because some graduates end up with extras and others need more than the four they are issued.

Eunice S. Yi ’04, who had a ticket she did not need, gave hers away for free over the Winthrop e-mail list.

“I got an e-mail saying ‘don’t be so stupid as to put it on eBay,’” she said. “More of my family couldn’t come, so I figured I might as well help someone out who needed it.”

A 2002 article in the Harvard Gazette about an otherwise unidentified man named “Jim” who wanted to surprise his graduating ex-girlfriend with flowers mentions that he procured his Commencement ticket on eBay, but the author does not make reference to any legal or disciplinary action taken against him.

—Staff writer Leon Neyfakh can be reached at neyfakh@fas.harvard.edu.

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