GW questions tradition’s future

The class of 2000 might be one of the last classes to graduate on the Ellipse because of construction plans.

Construction of a parking garage under the Ellipse will begin sometime in the next five years, pending congressional funding for the project, according to a Dec. 4 memo on a National Park Service Web page. The construction is part of a 20-year plan to improve property surrounding the White House.

The issue is not a cosmetic makeover of the White House and its surroundings, but ensuring the White House remains a functioning center of American government in the 21st century, according to the Web site.

GW officials in charge of graduation plans are unsure of when construction will begin on GW’s graduation spot.

Construction projects are anticipated, said Lynn Shipway, special assistant to the vice president for Administrative and Information Services, who is in charge of Commencement in the University Special Events office. Shipway said she has not heard any information from the National Park Service

We’re not sure if anyone knows, when, and if, that construction will happen, she said.

The National Park Service could not be reached for comment.

Kathryn Napper, director of Admissions, said one of GW’s recruitment brochures mentions a graduation ceremony, but there is no specific mention of the Ellipse.

We don’t want to say (the Ellipse), Napper said. It may change, and it is out of our hands.

The brochures, which used to read, you will graduate in the backyard of the presidents, now read, you will graduate in the city of presidents.

The Student Association passed a resolution saying GW students still want to graduate on the Ellipse after President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg requested student feedback about graduation.

Weather conditions also pose a concern for GW students and faculty, Shipway said. After a lightning storm canceled the ceremony in 1995, the University developed an extensive back-up plan, she said.

Commencement will be held on the Ellipse, rain or shine, and will only be moved to a back-up site in extreme situations, according to the Alternative Site/Emergency Plan Information.

According to the alternative plan, which will be distributed to graduating students after spring break, graduation would be held at the Smith Center in the event that Commencement cannot be held on the Ellipse.

However, due to space limitations, it is not possible to accommodate guests at the Smith Center, according to the plan.

If Commencement is held in the Smith Center each graduate would receive two tickets for guests to view a live broadcast from designated locations.

-Russ Rizzo contributed to this report.

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