Graduates let loose at dance

Correction appended

The soaring spaces of Union Station provided the backdrop Saturday night for this year’s Monumental Celebration, held annually for graduates and their families.

More than 2,000 seniors, friends and family members packed the historic building for an evening full of dancing and desserts.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity to have fun with your parents and mingle without being trashed,” said Sarah Zubair, an Elliott School of International Affairs graduate.

For graduating senior Mark Prysler, the “big shebang,” as he called the celebration, represented the culmination of his four years at GW.

“I came from nothing and now I’m something,” Prysler said. “Coming here, I feel high-class. This place represents what I want to become.”

Tickets to the event were $35 for graduates and $40 for friends and family members. Attendees enjoyed the buffets scattered throughout the two halls, along with several cash bars serving a variety of drinks.

University spokesperson Tracy Schario said all 2,000 tickets made available for the event were sold out. She attributed the event’s popularity to a restructuring several years ago that lowered ticket prices and made the event less formal.

“It’s much more of a social evening and it’s clearly very successful,” Schario said. “It’s a great event for everyone.”

Schario added that the planning for the evening began almost a year ago in the first week of June.

“It’s a tremendous undertaking that requires a great deal of orchestration,” she said.

Many in attendance said they were impressed by the work done to make the celebration a reality.

“It’s a really nice set-up, and it was done properly,” said Ronald Solevo, whose daughter Jenny graduated this weekend.

Graduates and their families were entertained by dance band Great Expectations, a jazz quartet and caricature artists. Georgeanne Orndorff, a fortune teller who works at GW Hospital, dressed as “Good Attitude” the clown on Saturday night. She said she has worked at the Monumental Celebration for “years and years.”

“It’s a fabulous party,” she said twisting a balloon into a heart for a young girl. “Every year it’s fabulous.”

It was also a night for administrators to unwind and enjoy themselves. University President Steven Knapp, Executive Vice President Donald Lehman and Senior Vice President Robert Chernak danced with their spouses.

“(Monumental Celebration) is a chance for people to get together and socialize,” said Chernak, likening the occasion to an “after-dinner spot.”

Lehman, who has attended every year for more than a decade, said this year’s celebration was “absolutely terrific.”

“Every year it’s very nice,” he said.

“I love to see parents looking so proud,” added his wife, Elyse, a 1970 doctoral graduate of GW and professor at George Mason. “It’s a culmination of years and years of hard work.”

A number of people commented on the opulent decorations in the two halls where the celebration was held.

“I’m very impressed,” said Pete Gallo, father of graduating senior Brian Gallo. “Somebody went through a lot of trouble for these decorations.”

Others admired the century-old architecture of Union Station.

“It reminds me of Grand Central Station,” said Irving Spodek, a Long Island, N.Y. resident who came to Washington for the graduation of his daughter, Nicole.

“I feel like it really reflects GW’s home in our nation’s capital,” added Diana Johnson, GW professor of biology who was attending the celebration for the first time.

This article has been changed to reflect the following correction: (May 19, 2008)

In the print edition, The Hatchet misspelled the name of Sarah Zubair, a graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs.

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