It's the time of year when graduation announcements begin to flood mailboxes across the nation, but this year, just because you received an invitation from a Madison County senior doesn't necessarily mean you can attend graduation ceremonies.
Just like the plot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, tickets will be an important component this year to graduation ceremonies.
According to Erin Stewart, community education director for Madison County Schools, seniors from both the county's public high schools will receive tickets prior to graduation.
Seniors from Madison Central High School will receive 12 tickets while Madison Southern High School seniors will have 18 tickets to disperse among family and friends. Tickets will not be required for babies under two years of age who will sit in an adult's lap.
Stewart said concerns over safety prompted Eastern Kentucky University officials to require ticketing to graduations this year.
"EKU's fire marshal has expressed concern for the past few years about the number of people in the building during graduation ceremonies," Stewart explained. "He was especially concerned about the number of people at Madison Central's graduation."
Stewart said the fire marshal indicated to Madison County Schools officials that Alumni Coliseum has been at or over capacity during graduation ceremonies and that something had to be done.
"It was a safety issue," Stewart said. "EKU has a responsibility to try and keep guests as safe as possible while on their campus and we respect that. We are trying to work with them on this issue and ticketing was a solution that made sense."
Stewart said the recent growth of Madison County and the leap in enrollment numbers within the school system has led to larger graduation turnouts.
She said it's a good problem to have as there are more students graduating each year.
"Our schools are growing," Stewart said. "It is definitely a changing culture and with that comes things like requiring tickets for graduation."
Ticket allotments, school officials indicated, are based off the number of seniors at each high school. Central has more students, therefore, fewer tickets can be dispersed.
Other nearby school systems, Stewart said, can only provide senior with four tickets to graduation.
"We spoke with many other school systems which have required ticketing at graduations for years," she said. "It is becoming a common practice."
Seniors are encouraged to let school officials know if their entire ticket allotment will not be used, so that they can be dispersed to other families.
School officials acknowledged the news has been met with some public outcry.
"We have received some calls about the new policy," Stewart said. "To my knowledge, the district has never had to require tickets before. We understand that many families are frustrated and we apologize for the timing of the announcement so close to graduation.
"We are working through this as well and are trying to find ways to make sure graduation goes as smoothly as possible and it can remain a great day for everyone."
Stewart said live streaming of the graduation ceremonies will be available for those who cannot attend the event.
School officials said they looked at other larger venues nearby to see if graduation ceremonies for the high schools could be accommodated without the need for ticketing. However, nothing was large enough or suitable enough except possibly Rupp Arena.
Stewart said school system administrators felt moving graduation ceremonies to Lexington would be too much of a burden to Madison County families.
"Graduation in Madison County has always been an open event for the community, and we wish it could remain that way. Unfortunately, this is a direct response to the growth of our community," Stewart said.
According to EKU facilities, Alumni Coliseum has a capacity of 6,500. Last year, 285 students graduated from Southern and 440 students graduated from Central.
Graduation for Central seniors will be Friday, May 19, at 7 p.m.. while Southern's graduation ceremonies will be Saturday, May 20, at noon. Both ceremonies will take place at Alumni Coliseum.
Reach Ricki Barker at 624-6611; follow her on Twitter @RickiBReports.