After the announcement of GW’s 1998 graduating class, the Ellipse became a virtual wasteland of graduation caps, empty water bottles and Commencement programs, as graduates and family members scrambled to find each other in a mad rush to celebrate.
The new GW alumni were in high spirits after the two-hour ceremony, despite the heat and humidity.
“I’m completely drunk right now,” said Mark Oxborough, a graduate of the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences. “We drank champagne through the entire (ceremony).”
While younger brothers and sisters played dress-up with their siblings’ robes and caps, family and friends talked with the 3,500 graduates about the ceremony and how it felt to graduate.
“My favorite part was the final conferring of the degrees,” said Susan Ebling, who received her master’s degree in international affairs. “The fact that I’ve finally finished hasn’t hit me yet. It’s still very much like a dream.”
“I really liked (Bob) Dole’s speech because he was the only speaker who really addressed the graduates,” said Columbian School graduate Eric Kodesch. “He’s had an amazing life.”
Although appearances by George and Martha Washington and the former senator received high marks, graduates were eager to escape the heat.
“Graduating was fantastic,” said criminal justice graduate Thomas Guevara. “But my favorite part of the ceremony was the end.”
After days of preparing for Commencement, graduates said they were ready for a break.
“I haven’t had a chance to do any sightseeing with my family yet,” said Columbian School graduate Eulalia Delarosa. “It’s just been so crazy the past couple of days. I’m really looking forward to going to brunch and taking a breather.”
Many graduates found it difficult to locate their families amid a sea of hugging families, relatives and photographers on the Ellipse.
Kudirat Alatisha came from Nigeria to see her son receive a degree in electrical engineering, only to lose him in the swelling crowd.
“The whole ceremony was fabulous, but we can’t seem to find my son,” Alatisha said. “We’re going to see if we can find him at the dorm.”
Others were also separated from their families.
“I’m annoyed that I can’t find my parents,” Kodesch said. “I’ve been looking for half an hour, but apart from that, everything else was great.”
Graduates posed for pictures in front of the White House with family members and friends. Many posed with George and Martha Washington.
Don De Haven and Jane Fox have played the nation’s first First Couple at GW Commencements since 1993. Dressed as the nation’s first president, De Haven offered the class of 1998 a few words of advice in his most authentic presidential voice.
“This is an important threshold for these graduates,” De Haven said. “Everyone should have this opportunity. After all, Washington was keen that there should be a diffusion of education and knowledge. GW was his legacy.
“I’m sure he’s proud of all the graduates today,” he said.
Martha had a few words of advice as well.
“My words of wisdom may not be as verbose as my sage husband,” Fox said. “But my advice to graduates is to work hard, play hard and have fun.”
Sunday at least, GW graduates – slipping off their robes and breathing a sigh of relief – seemed interested only in the latter part of Martha’s advice.