Students, faculty and administrators packed a Funger Hall auditorium Tuesday night to address the issue of moving Commencement from the Ellipse to the newly-built MCI Center.
The town hall meeting, sponsored by the Student Association, gave students the opportunity to give their input and question the committee charged by GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg to make recommendations for Commencement.
Students at the meeting pointed out to the committee that the University had publicized Commencement would be held on the Ellipse.
“It says in the literature the University sent to us, in big letters, `You will graduate in the backyard of the White House,’ ” Student Association undergraduate Sen. Jason Haber (CSAS) said. “When an institution of higher learning makes a promise to its students, it is up to that institution to keep that promise.”
The promises in the brochures and events like the town hall will weigh heavily into the committee’s final decision, said John Jenkins, Commencement committee chair and associate dean of the law school.
“The Committee is clearly aware of what is in the brochures. I consider that a very important aspect of our deliberations. It is a commitment that you reasonably can conclude the University made to you,” Jenkins said.
Commencement exercises have been held on the Ellipse since 1992, except for 1995, when a lightening storm forced Commencement to be canceled, with only a brief ceremony at the Marvin Center Theater.
Commencement committee member Lynn Shipway, special assistant in the Office of University Special Events, said effects of the problems in 1995 and student feedback about the backup plan and location will significantly impact the decision.
“(The town hall meeting) is very important,” Shipway said. “I was impressed with the students here tonight. They thought about the issues and were concerned not only about 1998, but the future classes as well.”
“Chances are it will be on the Ellipse this year, but my concern is for all the classes to come,” SA President Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar said. “The decision will be finalized for many years to come.”
Although no decision has been made, Shipway said the University has already submitted an application to the National Park Service to use the Ellipse for Commencement.
The University is taking steps it would normally take to hold the ceremony on the Ellipse, and it will continue to do so until a final decision is made about the location, she said.
The general tendency of the committee is to keep Commencement on the Ellipse if possible, Golparvar said.
“I assure you absolutely no decision has been made with respect to removing Commencement from the Ellipse,” Jenkins said. “I am personally convinced that we would have support from the administration if we recommended having Commencement on the Ellipse.”
But the committee must take several points into consideration, such as the cost of the Ellipse versus the MCI Center, Jenkins said. The committee has yet to receive any figures regarding the cost of moving Commencement to the MCI Center, or using the facility as a backup plan, he added.
The University should not focus only on the immediate costs of holding graduation on the Ellipse, said senior Rebecca Mayson. It should also look forward.
“I am a future alumna. There has been a lot of talk about seniors and how generous they’ll be with their checkbooks,” Mayson said. “I was promised this and I don’t know how much money I’d give to a University that broke such a promise to people who gave four years of their lives to it.”
Commencement on the Ellipse is one of GW’s finest traditions, SA undergraduate Sen. Patrick Macmanus (at large) said.
“If we move (Commencement) to the MCI Center, then we’re no different from any other university,” he said.
“I want Commencement on the Ellipse and I feel that most of the people on the committee want it on the Ellipse,” Golparvar said. “If the decision was made based on what students felt, it would be on the Ellipse.”