GW officials said they are hopeful that the more than 20,000 graduates, alumni, friends and family members expected to converge on campus this week will be able to enjoy a ceremony on the Ellipse Sunday. The University has rented out the MCI Center during the same time period in case “extraordinary circumstances” cause the Ellipse ceremony to be canceled.
Despite an “elevated” national terrorist threat level and a 30 percent chance of rain according to the Weather Channel, officials said they are optimistic they will be able to continue the 12-year Ellipse tradition.
“Knock on wood, hopefully everything will run smoothly,” said Jim Hess, executive director of University Events. Hess said GW has been in communication with U.S. Park Police officials who have jurisdiction over the park across the street from the White House.
While Hess said he cannot describe the exact conditions necessary for canceling the event, University officials will be checking weather reports throughout the week.
John Petrie, assistant vice president for Public Safety and Emergency Management, who has been handling communication with federal officials, said plans were going forward for the Ellipse ceremony when the nation was at the “high” alert level that he hopes for a “quiet, dignified ceremony.”
“Our preference and objective is to do the ceremony as planned … but, at the same time, the University has a well-thought-out backup plan,” Petrie said.
Hess said information regarding any changes to the ceremony would be available on the GW Web site and at 994-5050. The University would provide bus transportation to the MCI Center from campus as well as encourage attendees to use the Metro to the Gallery Place/Chinatown stop if it changes the venue.
The University is taking out advertisements in The Hatchet as well as distributing sheets with the alternate site plans to graduates.
Hess said the ceremony, which he estimated costs between $350,000 and $400,000, will also have more student speakers this year. Instead of being introduced by Board of Trustees members or faculty, the four honorary degree recipients will be introduced by students graduating with similar degrees (See “GW to give honorary degrees,” p. 4).
Students will also see an expanded Monumental Celebration ceremony at Union Station Saturday night. GW is renting out the lower food court of the train station in addition to the lobby area. Although the University originally planned for 3,500 guests, as in past years, Hess said the University had sold 4,200 tickets by Friday and still has tickets available.
“We have never sold this many tickets … and renting out the lower level goes a long way in solving the capacity problem we were facing,” Hess said.
Monumental Celebration is an annual ceremony held prior to graduation for students, parents and alumni.
Hess said he is unsure why the demand went up for the event this year and that the University “will need to think about what it’s going to do” in future years. Georgetown University rents out a larger portion of Union Station for its annual ceremony. GW charges graduates $50 and other guests $60, while Georgetown charges $75 for all guests and requires all seniors to purchase tickets. Georgetown’s event will be held at Union Station Friday and also offers an open bar.
Many local hotels are sold out starting Tuesday, with GW’s and Georgetown’s commencements scheduled for the weekend.
George Washington University Inn general manager Ian Heffron said the hotel has been sold out for the weekend since September and recommends those interested in attending next year’s commencement reserve rooms this summer.