Some graduates and their families opted for a bit of added pomp and circumstance Saturday night at the annual Monumental Celebration in Union Station.
Members of the GW community packed the main atrium of the 100-year-old train station to drink, eat and dance to covers of classic songs such as “Shout” by the Isley Brothers. Monumental Celebration is an annual post-graduation event featuring music and food as well as novelty acts such as clowns and caricature artists. Flanked by parents and siblings, graduates roam the station in formal dress during their last night as GW students.
University officials estimated that 2,300 people attended the event Saturday night – about twice as many as last year.
“It’s really nice that they have this celebration in addition to the formal (graduation) ceremony,” said Kathy Pape, mother of graduate Elizabeth Trinkle. “It’s nice because there are all kinds of people in all kinds of dress. It’s a good mix.”
Tracy Schario, director of Media Relations, said the University sold-out of 1,800 tickets by mid-April, and subsequently decided to rent out another area of the station to accommodate everyone who wanted to attend.
“We are extremely pleased,” Schario said. “It is twice as big as last year and everyone who wanted to attend was able to.”
The University rented three separate rooms, each with its own atmosphere and live band. While some people danced to an upbeat cover band in the main hall, others slow-danced to a jazz quartet in an adjacent room. In each area, hors d’oeuvres and dessert dishes lined the tables in addition to the many cash bars.
“I’ve been all around the world and there is nothing like (Union Station),” said John Mooney, grandfather of a recent graduate. “It’s really a tribute to the United States.”
Mario Gutierrez, who graduated in a Saturday afternoon ceremony, has been taking online classes for his masters in clinical research for the past several years. He and his family drove from Cincinnati early last week for Commencement and Monumental Celebration.
“After three and a half years of studying online and working full-time, this was a relief,” said Gutierrez, the father of three girls. His mother and brother in Mexico traveled to America for the first time to see him graduate, he said.
“(The event) is really nice and they are having a blast,” Gutierrez said of his family. He added that he met most of his online classmates Saturday afternoon while walking to receive his diploma.
Audrey Kudler, a senior who graduated in a Saturday afternoon ceremony, said having the event in Union Station is very appropriate for GW.
“I think that GW sees itself as a D.C. landmark and so having another event at a notable D.C. place is very fitting,” Kudler said. Though she said there was a lack of appropriate seating, Kudler added that it was most likely because so many people came as the result of the University urging people to attend this year.
Last year, administrators considered eliminating Monumental Celebration due to increased Commencement costs. Only 1,400 tickets were sold for last year’s celebration, compared to more tahn 4,000 several years earlier. Tickets this year were $35 for graduates and $40 for non-graduates.
Robert Chernak, senior vice president of Student and Academic Support Services, said the turnout this year gives him more confidence that Monumental Celebration is a lasting tradition.
“I think all events have cycles of popularity,” Chernak said. “(Monumental Celebration) is one of the last chances for seniors to get together before people go away (Sunday). And it’s reasonably-priced so why not?”
Keith Cricks, father of graduate Fame Cricks-Renada, said that although the event is a great ending to a busy day, it is not the end of the weekend.
“The band is good, the food is great and we’re having a really good time,” Cricks said. “But there’s (Commencement), too, so it hasn’t ended yet.”