Commencement shines through showers

Rain showers and the threat of thunderstorms did not deter an estimated 25,000 people from gathering for Commencement on the National Mall Sunday.

Organizers planned a shorter ceremony to account for the rain, which started falling about halfway through the ceremony during the presentation of honorary degrees to former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and former Board of Trustees Chairman Charles Manatt.

Hatchet Video: Commencement on the Mall

“We’ve been soaking you for 20 years, so what’s a little drizzle now?” said Trachtenberg, as the Mall quickly became a sea of multi-colored umbrellas and ponchos. “I’ve been saving that line for a long time,” he added.

University spokesperson Tracy Schario said the short speeches from Manatt and Trachtenberg, as well as the brisk pace throughout the program, cut about 20 minutes from the ceremony. Commencement ended at 11:30 a.m., while in previous years it concluded closer to noon.

The ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. with the procession of graduates, faculty and administrators, led by a team of bagpipers and drummers. The GW Symphonic Band also performed, at one point playing the theme from “Star Wars.”

At the outset of the ceremony, University Marshal Jill Kasle announced that many of the empty seats reserved for graduates were available to the general audience, initiating a rush of parents and family members looking for a better view.

Schario said the empty seats were “not uncommon” and the number of graduates present was comparable to previous years.

Attendees far away from the speakers were kept close to the action by four large projection monitors. Student volunteers ferried mobility-impaired audience members in large golf carts, while EMeRG was on hand for any potential emergencies.

“I think (Commencement) was very well-organized and well-executed,” said Nancy Falk, who came from New Jersey to see her daughter receive a master’s degree.

The rain did not dampen the spirits of those present – some of whom stayed after the ceremony to socialize.

“The weather doesn’t bother me,” said Phil Potter, grandfather of graduate Stephanie Dolloff. “The future’s bright, even if the day’s a little cloudy.”

Sunday morning’s ceremony cost the University about $250,000, while the overall price tag for Commencement Weekend neared $750,000, Schario said.

The University gave each graduate six Commencement tickets – four of which were valid for the Verizon Center, the backup location for the Commencement if there was life-threatening weather reported on the Mall. Schario said there were fewer tickets available for the Verizon Center because the stadium’s seating capacity of 20,000 is smaller than the open spaces of the National Mall.

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