After hours bundled up in freezing temperatures on the National Mall, members of the GW community shed the layers of warm clothing for ball gowns and tuxedos to dance the night away at the University’s largest inaugural ball to date.
Thousands of students, alumni and employees partied together for about four hours at Tuesday’s celebration, which has been a GW tradition since 1993. The ball was highlighted by food, dancing and a variety of music in seven different ballrooms.
The event cost the University a total of $575,000, which includes renting the ballrooms, hiring security, providing a free coat check and coach bus transportation and absorbing some of the soft drink and water costs, said University spokeswoman Tracy Schario. Revenue from the ticket sales covered only two-thirds of the total cost, partially because the University did not expect virtually all of the tickets to be sold at the discounted Election Day price.
“There was an unprecedented sell-out on discount tickets and it did impact the budget,” Schario said. “But in the grand scheme of things, this event was unprecedented all around.”
Guests walking through the maze of ballrooms and hallways encountered live bands and dance floors, with music ranging from jazz to swing. One room called the “Urban Lounge” – an auxiliary garage transformed into an impromptu nightclub – featured more contemporary rap and pop music.
“I was surprised with the variations of the ballrooms. If I get bored in one room after 20 minutes, I go into another and [start] swing dancing,” said Laura Westman, a junior, who added that sitting back and looking at the myriad gowns and suits was also a popular diversion.
The 4,000 tickets that were made available on Election Day sold out in record time, leading the University to sell an additional 1,200 tickets to a waiting list. With additional free tickets given out at some University events, event organizers estimated that well over 5,000 people filled the seven ballrooms acquired for the night.
Junior James Simpson attended the ball as part of the student a capella group The Vibes, one of a dozen student groups asked to perform for the night.
“I think it’s absolutely excellent that student orgs and especially performance groups at GW have this opportunity,” Simpson said. “To be able to say that you sang at an inaugural ball for the first African-American president sends chills up my spine.”
Nearly 75 percent of tickets were sold to students, but 20 ambassadors and a number of D.C. City Council members and congressional representatives were also in attendance, Schario said.
University President Steven Knapp said the ball was a testament to GW’s unique political culture.
“Our students are engaged in every aspect of the inauguration . a number of our students were involved with the campaign on all sides of the issue,” Knapp said, adding that the ball “is another side of what it means to be at the university at the heart of the nation’s capital.”
The event was organized by the Inaugural Ball Planning Committee, which has met twice a month since October. The committee consisted of least 20 members, including student representatives from various student organizations. Relevant departments like Risk Management and the Alumni Association were also involved.
“It’s hard to sit in a room and figure out how seven ballrooms in one hotel are going to come together, and 5,400 people. It’s hard to visualize that every two weeks in between classes, but I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out,” said junior Dan Curran, a Student Association representative for the committee.
Many guests felt that attending the ball was another way to be a part of such a memorable election, including graduate student Charles Basden.
“There was a lot of energy around GW this year in terms of our location and our float being in the presidential parade,” Basden said. “And I thought this was a capstone event and I wanted to be a part of what I think is history.”
Not all of the students were thrilled, however, with the ball’s format and felt their ticket money would have been better spent elsewhere. Junior Seth McElroy said the ball felt more like a night of “bar hopping,” while others, like junior Brittany Perrotte, had trouble just getting a drink.
Perrotte said, “It’s been an amazing day, the Mall and inauguration was great, but all I’ve done at the inaugural ball is wait in line for my drinks.”