Graduates march on Ellipse

Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright gave warm wishes to the graduating class of 2000 Sunday, as a gloomy skyline and several protesters failed to hamper the spirit of the annual Commencement ceremony held on the Ellipse.

In her address, Albright challenged the graduating class to explode outward the boundaries of what is achievable on this earth.

For each of us must choose whether to live our lives narrowly, selfishly and complacently, or to act with courage and faith, Albright said.

After her address Albright said she had always wanted to speak at a graduation ceremony in D.C., and that GW has special relevance to her life.

(GW) is a place where I walk and drive through all of the time, said Albright following her Commencement address. It’s a wonderful University.

President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg presented Albright with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree. He also presented honorary degrees to Sir Martin Gilbert, a historian who studied the life of Winston Churchill, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and James D. Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank Group.

Although a few attendees and several students yelled and turned their backs when Wolfensohn and Albright spoke, the ceremony continued undisturbed.

I know that some are unhappy I was chosen and I can understand why, Albright joked. If I were a graduate, I would have asked for Denzel Washington or Tom Cruise.

University officials said the protests did not disrupt the services.

In terms of protesters, we probably had more than that for Bill Cosby, University Marshal Jill Kasle said. People expressed their points, but the ceremony was not disrupted.

Trachtenberg said the presence of protesters did not cause problems.

It’s the American way, he said.

Mark Lund, the student speaker, summarized his years playing on the men’s basketball team by describing an experience he had following the team’s loss to the University of Massachusetts in the A-10 tournament earlier this year.

To win the game is great; to play the game is greater; but to love the game is the greatest of all, said Lund, who remembered reading the phrase from a plaque shortly before team’s loss.

Lund, who will begin GW Medical School in August, said he lived a lifelong dream by playing college basketball.

Many things will catch your eye, but few will catch your heart, Lund said. He encouraged graduates to pursue those things important to them.

Operatory Supervisor Nhan Ho said it took almost four days for the 22,000 chairs to be placed on the Ellipse. About 1,700 chairs in the graduate section remained unfilled at the ceremony.

The reason for the empty seats was because the University added extra seats, said Barbara Porter, director of University Relations.

We normally cushion the number of seats we have, said Porter, who added the weather may have kept some graduates from attending.

Kasle said the ceremony was virtually perfect, and the only delay, between the second and third procession, resulted because the Secret Service wanted Albright to appear in at the last minute as a security precaution.

As deans of the individual schools presented the graduates to Trachtenberg, the graduates celebrated by shooting silly string, tossing confetti and cheering loudly.

I found it much livelier than my own university, said Gilbert, a graduate of Oxford University, after the ceremony. It was quite inspiring.

-Sarah Lechner and Russ Rizzo contributed to this report.

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