Despite security concerns after the recent sniper shootings and threats of inclement weather, more than 3,000 alumni, friends and relatives visited Foggy Bottom this weekend for what University officials are calling a successful attempt to “showcase the University to all of its constituents.”
The first ever Colonials Weekend combined alumni and family weekends to increase student networking opportunities, officials said.
Visitors strolled down a closed H Street between 20th and 22nd streets this weekend on their way to carriage rides, speakers and numerous banquets, as well as the most well-attended events – Midnight Madness and Jay Leno performances. Though many events were relocated indoors because of rain, students and visitors said they enjoyed the festivities.
The Smith Center filled up three times in 24 hours, starting Friday night at Midnight Madness, for the annual introduction of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and on Saturday for two Jay Leno acts.
CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer and GW President Steven Joel Trachtenberg welcomed families Saturday morning.
The affair included awards presented to Student Association President Phillip Robinson, Alumni Association President Nicholas Lakas and Director of Alumni Relations Keith Betts.
In a brief introduction, Trachtenberg touched on rifts stemming from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that have grown between Jewish and Muslim students at a number of other colleges. He praised GW students for their commitment to tolerance, citing examples of unity on campus.
Trachtenberg passed the podium to Blitzer, who he called “a member of our family” because of his frequent attendance at GW basketball games.
Blitzer spoke of his own experience coming to Washington, catching “Potomac fever” and climbing his way up the professional ladder.
“The Washington experience helped me develop the curiosity that is the lifeblood of a journalist,” he told the audience.
After graduating from the University of Buffalo, Blitzer came to Washington to earn a degree from the John Hopkins University Graduate School of International Affairs. Though he was considering pursuing a doctorate in that field, he then found employment with the Reuters News Agency in Washington.
Blitzer addressed a variety of current issues, ranging from the state of the news industry to a looming war with Iraq.
“I was actually supposed to be in Baghdad right now,” Blitzer said. “But I was denied a visa.”
The speech seemed to resonate with students in the audience, many of whom could relate with Blitzer’s story of choosing a profession.
“I’m not quite sure what I want to do yet,” said freshman Brittany Priebe, an international affairs major. “After hearing about all he’s done around the world, it kind of inspired me to go into journalism.”
As some parents and students endured the block-long line to see Jay Leno, others waited for only 10 minutes to view downtown D.C. via horse and buggy rides. As part of Colonials Weekend, Parent Services and Alumni Relations offered an old-fashioned sightseeing tour of the White House area Saturday night.
“It was a really successful event last year, so we thought we’d bring it back for this year’s Colonials Weekend,” said Talibah Bayles, an executive aide in the office of Parent Services.
The tours started at 9:30 p.m. and continued until just before midnight, with carriages picking up and dropping off sightseers on H Street, across from the Quad.
Parent Services Director Rodney Johnson, who oversaw the event, chatted with parents and students throughout the evening.
“It’s been a really great night, especially with parents and students and alumni here from all over the country and, really, all over the world,” Johnson said. “For them to be able to come here and interact with each other, that’s really amazing.”
The tours lasted about fifteen minutes, but some patrons rode more than once.
“It was so much fun, we’re getting back in line to do it again,” parent Kathy Norman said.
Carriage rides proved to be a good addition to the weekend, enjoyable even for families accustomed to the old-fashioned tradition.
“This has been a fabulous weekend. I was never able to take a carriage ride through Central Park, so who would have thought I had to come down to D.C. to do it?” said parent Sarina Rigney, a New York City native.
Johnson said the event went well, especially considering the forecast for the evening.
“We beat the odds,” Johnson said. “Given the rain at first, the evening was a definite success by all accounts.”
Some of the carriages featured Jack Russell terriers onboard, much to the delight of many riders.
“It was awesome,” sophomore Chris Pope said. “Beanie, our dog, was very cool – a very important part of the tour.”
Johnson said the weekend is unique because it was the only time of year GW parents, alumni and students had a reason to come together.
“Because we don’t have football, we don’t have six or seven weekends a year where we can bring everyone together, so Colonials Weekend is really important to us,” Johnson said.