The Student Association passed a resolution Tuesday demanding that GW continue its tradition of holding Commencement on the Ellipse. While students and administrators agree that the Ellipse is the best venue for the ceremony, factors beyond the University’s control may force GW to seek another site. GW should keep its promise to hold Commencement on the Ellipse. If construction makes that impossible, the University should come up with other venue options than the MCI Center to continue the tradition of the outdoor ceremony.
The National Park Service plans to construct an underground parking garage and visitors center beneath the Ellipse and Presidents’ Park, the green space surrounding the White House. While Congress has yet to fund the plan, the NPS insists the project will be completed in the next five years.
With construction coming to the Ellipse, GW students are left wondering where they will listen to the Commencement speaker and celebrate with their families on the important day. Understandably, some students are angry about talk of changing the ceremony site because they were promised an Ellipse ceremony as prospective students.
Past admissions brochures said graduation exercises would be held in the backyard of presidents, an obvious reference to the Ellipse ceremony. The current brochures feature slightly different language. Now students will graduate in the city of presidents. Holding Commencement in the MCI Center with its controlled climate and ample seating is the most reliable option, but it lacks the glamour of Washington and its monuments.
Students promised an Ellipse ceremony should get one. But should Commencement be moved off the Ellipse due to construction by the federal government, GW administrators obviously would not be at fault.
The construction is coming, and plans must be made to accommodate it. Students and administrators must formulate a compromise plan that alleviates the concerns of both groups. Students want to graduate outside near the monuments. The National Mall seems an ideal alternate location for Commencement, provided the necessary arrangements can be made with the NPS.
Of course, any outdoor ceremony is vulnerable to cancellation from lightning or other dangerous weather conditions, but that appears to be a risk students are willing to take.