GW reserves MCI center as backup for Commencement

This year’s graduation will take place on the Ellipse as it has since 1992, and for the first time the MCI Center will be sitting ready if the outdoor event is canceled because of security risks or bad weather.

The University finalized the deal with the MCI Center Thursday, offering to pay $40,000 for the option of moving the event to the Washington Wizards’ home as late as May 19, the day of the ceremony. This is the first year GW will have a back-up plan to accommodate all guests.

Vice President for Communications Mike Freedman said he put in a request for the MCI Center the day after last year’s ceremony, which came close to cancellation because of rain.

“I think it’s the best of both worlds,” said Student Associaiton President Roger Kapoor, who negotiated with administrators to keep the Ellipse ceremony. “For the first time we can say that every family relative will
have a seat to see their son or daughter graduate.”

Kapoor said political and economic issues led some GW officials to support making the MCI Center the primary graduation site.

A 1998 University report on Commencement reads: “The benefits of the MCI Center are so compelling that they bear repeating.” Benefits include a covered space, better views, state-of-the-art sound and video equipment, ample restrooms and parking, a nearby Metro stop and “excellent security arrangements” that the Ellipse does not offer, according to the report.

Cost is another factor motivating supporters of the MCI Center. The 1997 Commencement cost $580,000 to put on, according to the report.

But Freedman said students have consistently indicated that they do not want any other graduation site.

“It was very clear that students did want to stay on the Ellipse,” he said.
“On a beautiful day it’s the most wonderful thing in the world.”

An added concern this year is security, as the nation remains on edge after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the spread of anthrax. Because more attacks are possible, Freedman said GW is prepared to move from the open-air site if asked.

Freedman said he will meet with D.C. Parks Services, which oversees the Ellipse, about security precautions in the next two weeks but expects the event to happen as planned.

While Secret Service will ultimately decide whether the ceremony is safe enough to host, Freedman said if GW is forced off the Ellipse “they’re going to have a damn good reason why.”

“We go into this with a new feeling this year,” Freedman said, referring to added insurance of the MCI Center. “My great concern this year is that for security reasons we might not be able to have the Ellipse.”

Freedman said the new backup plan will cost $17,000 more than the old backup plan, which used the Smith Center and closed-circuit televisions around campus.

“There will be nothing any graduate of 2002 will see in the way of increased fees that is a result of this deal I just struck,” he said.

Freedman said parent complaints led him to consider other options for primary sites. Most parents missed the ceremony in 1995, when lightning canceled the event and GW had no real backup plan. The Smith Center was then created as a backup, but it cannot seat the 20,000 GW guests.

Kapoor said parents mostly support the outdoor option.

“The whole idea of Commencement is that it’s a student-centered event . and the parents are very sympathetic to that cause,” he said. “They want to see their sons and daughters happy.”

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