The chair of the University’s Commencement Committee said this week he believes the 30 members of the committee will agree the May ceremony should remain on the Ellipse.
John Jenkins, associate dean of the GW Law School and the committee’s chair, said each member will have the chance to express his or her thoughts about the proposed venue change at Friday’s meeting.
But he said that rather than conduct a formal tally of the committee’s members, he will determine the panel’s final decision after hearing its members’ comments about the possible move.
“I don’t see anyone on this committee recommending anything other than the Ellipse,” Jenkins said. “Surveys have shown that 95 percent of students would like (Commencement) to be on the Ellipse. Based on that, I expect the committee’s consensus will be to hold Commencement on the Ellipse.”.
If committee members completely fail to reach a consensus, however, Jenkins said he will conduct a yea-nay vote.
The committee’s recommendations to GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg are not binding. Trachtenberg said he expects to make a final decision about the location of this year’s ceremony within a few weeks of reading the committee’s report.
Jenkins said it is an “impossible hypothesis” that the group will agree Friday to recommend a move to the MCI Center.
“I don’t see it at all possible that the committee members will come up with an opinion that ignores the data we have, which says students want Commencement to be on the Ellipse,” Jenkins said.
While Jenkins said cost estimates still are not available for the MCI Center, he said he expects them before Friday’s vote.
But if estimates are not available, he said the committee will proceed with its report to Trachtenberg Friday, outlining options within a variety of price ranges.
Jenkins said if renting space in the MCI Center is reasonable, the downtown arena could be used as a backup for the Ellipse event.
“I think it is theoretically an option,” Jenkins said. “But I have a feeling (reserving the MCI Center) is going to be a substantial amount of money.”
Jenkins said he expects the committee will make a recommendation for future Commencements as well as for this spring.
“I think there is less certainty (for keeping it on the Ellipse in the future) than for this year, but I think for the next several years there will be a sentiment for Commencement on the Ellipse,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins said he will recommend a change in University recruitment literature that reads, “You will graduate in the backyard of the White House” so future students do not feel they are promised a graduation on the Ellipse. He added, however, that the literature does not legally require GW to hold the event there.
Jenkins also said if the committee recommends an Ellipse ceremony, the University may cancel the Monumental Celebration – its traditional Commencement weekend party – to cut costs.
“If it’s going to be on the Ellipse, there has to be major cuts to the weekend,” he said.
According to the committee’s findings, the University’s budget for this year’s Commencement is $210,000 less than what was spent last year.
Kuyomars “Q” Golparvar, Student Association president, said the cancellation of the Saturday night party at Union Station is a fair tradeoff if the ceremony remains on the Ellipse.
“I think that it is unfortunate to lose Monumental Celebration,” Golparvar said. “But if it has to go to keep Commencement on the Ellipse, then I will accept it.”
Justen Bennett-Maccubbin, a student member of the committee, said he does not believe administrators will recommend to keep Commencement on the Ellipse.
“I won’t believe that (the consensus) will happen until it does,” Bennett-Maccubbin said. “The administrators are going to have a more difficult time making the vote for the MCI Center if students are there. If they do vote for the MCI Center, I hope there is outrage by the student body.”
Friday’s meeting will be at 9:30 a.m. in Marvin Center room 413.