FLORENCE, Ala. -- For the first time ever, the University of North Alabama is limiting the number of guests allowed to attend graduation.
In one day's time, 2,500 people signed a petition on Change.org asking university staff to reconsider.
Graduation is a big deal.
"I got to invite as many family members as I wanted and I ended up having 20 people that showed up," UNA grad Katie Raines said.
That's why Raines signed the petition. She graduated in May. Her husband is graduating in December. He will be given tickets to invite six guests. Normally there isn't a limit.
"It's very difficult to try and decide which family members were going to ask to come and which were going to ask to stay home," Raines said.
This renovation project at Flowers Hall is removing about 1,000 seats.
"We have to be very cognizant and aware of the fire and safety issues," Chief Enrollment Officer Ron Patterson said.
The upcoming graduation will be the only time the university will limit guests. The university is only going to hold 2 ceremonies for the December 2018 graduation. After that, it will hold three. The petition asks university staff to hold three ceremonies this year too.
"Please, listen to the students because we have worked so hard for this. I love this university," petition creator Emperor Cosby said.
"I completely understand. It is unfortunate for us to implement the ticket system this fall," Patterson said.
Patterson says it takes a year to plan graduation. They don't have enough time to change it.
"Well, there's a lot of logistics involved. "
Patterson says due to limited seating the university will be displaying a live stream of the ceremony right at Norton Auditorium.
"We will provide shuttles. We will have professional staff in Norton Auditorium to assist if necessary. We will provide light refreshments as well. Now it is not ideal. We know that, but at the same time, we want our graduates and families to know that we do care."
But students say they want their family and friends to be in the same room as them, not in a different building on campus.
"We would really like it to be more personal for our families for them to attend if at all possible," petition creator Madelyn Gray said.
Patterson says university staff have seen the petition. At this time they do not intend to change graduation plans. He says the university is planning to work with students to bring more guests. If a student doesn't need all of their tickets, the staff may redistribute them to other students.