Fortune-teller G.A. Orndorff took a sip of wine and studied the cards placed in front of graduating senior Marla Scriffignano.
“You like to relax as much as you work,” she told Scriffignano. “But you have a very good fortune.”
Orndorff told the fortunes of dozens of soon-to-be graduates and their families at Monumental Celebration in Union Station Saturday night.
The future was on many students’ minds as they counted the hours until Sunday morning’s Commencement on the Ellipse, but several of the 3,500 attendees at the tenth annual pre-graduation celebration said they focused on partying for one of the last times with college friends that night.
Partygoers descended on the front lobby of Union Station for the celebration, roaming around several enticing appetizer and dessert tables.
GW’s 10-piece King James and Serfs of Swing was a new addition to the event on a separate dance floor this year, and cover-band Odyssey returned to play newer chart-toppers such “Tubthumping” to hits from the last four decades, including “Brown Eyed Girl” and “YMCA.”
Sequined grandmothers gingerly stepped out on the dance floor to bust a move alongside their grandchildren and three inflatable animals, including a tuxedo-clad hippo. Organizers said they decided to continue the tradition of inflatable animals to amuse intoxicated guests.
Graduates eagerly searched for friends to extend congratulations, while many jet-lagged parents sat down and relaxed.
The event also featured face-painters, caricature artists and fortune-tellers like Orndorff. Younger siblings and older relatives alike enjoyed custom-made balloon animals.
For many, the celebration provided an opportunity to put names with faces of people they’d only learned about in conversation.
“The best part of tonight is meeting all the parents of all the kids we’ve heard about for four years,” said Nancy Kolb, mother of graduating senior Rachel Shields, while Shields’ grandmother waved neon maracas.
Former Student Association President and graduating senior Roger Kapoor said the celebration, though “magical,” was bittersweet for him.
“If I think about leaving GW, I’m gonna get teary-eyed,” he said. “I couldn’t have dreamed of receiving a better education.”
Kapoor’s mother, father and brother were in attendance, recounting memories of Roger’s college years and before.
His mother, Gigi, beamed with pride as she told the story of giving 10-year-old Roger money to buy hamburgers for himself and his brother, John, while she worked at the gas station she owned.
She said Roger returned and said he ate lunch, but later, at home, went looking for food in the cabinet. He finally admitted he gave his hamburger to the gas station janitor, a poor man who Gigi said “swept the floor.”
“It goes without saying,” she said. “I’m speechless. I’m blessed.”
Former Program Board Chair Alicia O’Neil said her graduation experience is different from most because she will return to GW next year for graduate school as a Presidential Administrative Fellow.
Her father, Kelly O’Neil, quipped that Alicia has already been away from her southern California home for four years, so another two will not be too difficult.
“Distance only makes the heart go fonder,” he said.
Although most families traveled to Washington from familiar places like Ohio or New York, several family members of graduates made longer journeys for graduation weekend.
“My grandparents came in from India last night,” said graduating senior Jaspal Singh, who called the celebration “phenomenal.”
Kenya native Joan Sumbeiywo, who graduated with a master’s in Information Management Systems, said six family members flew to D.C. from Kenya for her graduation. She said she had not seen her family in two years.
“I learned a lot here . and hope to eventually go back home and apply it there,” Sumbeiywo said.
While a frequent complaint was a lack of tables and chairs, response to the event was overwhelmingly positive.
Senior Michael Lupo said 22 of his relatives came for the weekend, but said it was not difficult to find time for both friends and family.
Douglas Dattoma, Lupo’s uncle, added that he was ready to dance with the graduates alongside his nephew.
“We don’t restrict his lifestyle, we encourage him to party,” Dattoma said.
Despite a few complaints about the $60 non-senior ticket price, no one interviewed said they regretted attending Monumental Celebration.
As the last chocolate strawberry was devoured and the last fortune told, most graduates were again reminded that their time at GW was almost over. A few seniors said the celebration provided some closure to their GW experience.
“Tonight was a good way to close the circle,” said graduating senior Liz Jyankura.
Senior Colleen Campbell agreed.
“It sums up everything GW represents,” said Campbell, which she said included “a great education and distinctive class.”
“We’re not a cookie-cutter school,” Campbell said.
-Mosheh Oinounou and Kate Stepan contributed to this report.