Graduation to be on Mall for second year

Commencement will be held on the National Mall for the second year in a row, University officials said last week.

Last year’s ceremony was moved from the Ellipse – the large circular lawn south of the White House – to the Mall because of renovations. Nearby construction may continue into May of this year, which prompted administrators to reselect the Mall as the site for Commencement.

The annual graduation ceremony will be held May 20 between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument. GW has used the Ellipse as its site for Commencement since 1992.

“The fact of the matter is that there simply is no guarantee at this point that all the construction around the Ellipse is going to be completed by May 20,” said Vice President of Communications Mike Freedman. “And we don’t see a reason to go out of our way to take a risk.”

Jim Hess, executive director of university events, said construction on the Ellipse will be finished before Commencement.

“While the National Park Service has indicated that renovation of the Ellipse itself has been completed, there is still renovation work scheduled along 17th Street,” Hess wrote in an e-mail. “Although the timeline for this renovation is unclear, it would negatively impact Commencement if the project is still underway in May 2007.”

Entry into the Ellipse could be limited and sidewalks could be missing or under reconstruction, Freedman said.

The work on the Ellipse is a rehabilitation project which includes resodding and resurfacing the grounds, said Bill Line, spokesperson for the National Capital Region of the National Park Service.

The park service is responsible for the maintenance of national parks, including the Ellipse and the Mall. This project is the first restoration project on the Ellipse in over 40 years, Line said.

Hess said that changing the Commencement site last year was very popular with those attending the ceremony.

“I think most people were positive about the switch and they understood it was necessary to move from the Ellipse last year,” Hess said. “By all accounts – faculty, staff, parents, administrators – the event itself was a huge success.”

Because of the length and narrowness of the Mall in comparison to the Ellipse, last year’s Commencement included jumbo television screens which carried footage of the goings-on of the main stage. “The jumbo screens were a big hit last year and it is our intention to use them again this year,” Freedman said.

Last year’s screens cost approximately $40,000, of the $750,000 total costs, Hess said. He expects Commencement 2007’s costs to be similar to last year’s.

Holding Commencement at the Ellipse next year may also incur additional costs to preserve the grounds after the rehabilitation project. The University has not yet decided the site for Commencement in 2008, Freedman said.

Monumental Celebration, the Commencement weekend party, will be held May 20, once again at Union Station. Although there were discussions last year about canceling the event, University officials opted to keep it.

“It has become a very nice tradition at GW. We didn’t want to end a terrific tradition on Commencement weekend,” Freedman said.

Thoughts of cancellation were sparked by two years of low ticket sales in 2004 and 2005, coupled with high ticket prices. The cost of tickets in 2005 was $55 for students and $65 for guests.

Last year, administrators decided to make logistical changes to the event to lower ticket prices and keep the event alive. Modifications included renting less space, changing the menu to all dessert items, altering the musical groups, and making the event semi-formal instead of formal.

Tickets to last year’s Monumental Celebration were $30 for students and $35 for family and friends. Officials expect ticket prices to be similar this year, but said the prices have not yet been discussed.

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