The COVID-19 pandemic has grabbed headlines this month, at GW and universities across the world.
University President Thomas LeBlanc relieved some stress for graduating seniors by inviting them to the 2021 Commencement ceremony, but D.C. residents are indefinitely losing access to one of the District’s biggest draws – the National Mall.
Here’s the best and worst from this week’s headlines:
The impact of the novel coronavirus has been difficult for graduating seniors, who are missing out on their last few months of college and graduation. Thousands petitioned the University to postpone Commencement on the National Mall – and officials responded with the right decision. LeBlanc extended an invitation for the Class of 2020 to attend next year’s ceremony.
Moving Commencement to 2021 is not perfect for every graduating senior. Some seniors will move across the country or may not be able to afford a trip back to D.C. for graduation. But administrators do not know when it will be safe to host an event like a graduation, especially as more states announce indefinite restrictions on public gatherings. If the University had moved Commencement to a later date this year, they might have needed to cancel it again. Celebrating graduation with the classes of 2020 and 2021 will give officials time to schedule a ceremony without worrying about coronavirus.
Seniors might also get a consolation prize for celebrating next year – they will get to graduate alongside GW’s 200th class. Officials are already planning for a major fundraising campaign for the bicentennial, and seniors can expect Commencement to cap off a year-long celebration. At other universities celebrating their bicentennials, officials have brought in high-profile speakers ranging from former President Franklin Roosevelt at the University of Pennsylvania 1940 to former President Bill Clinton at the University of North Carolina in 1993. If the University follows the lead of other institutions, the two classes may experience a once-in-a-lifetime commencement.
Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday that the National Mall and Tidal Basin will close because of growing concerns over the pandemic. The National Mall is the District’s most popular attraction, and students often venture to the monuments for walks or runs. But no one will have the chance to visit, at least for now.
The cherry blossom trees are also in bloom this week, and D.C. residents and visitors are missing out on one of the best times to visit the Mall and Tidal Basin. Still, health concerns and public safety should trump tourism. While sad, Bowser’s decision was responsible and ensures people do not gather in crowds around the Mall or the cherry blossoms.
Walking along the Tidal Basin does not allow much room to maneuver, let alone practice social distancing. Last week, Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner James Harnett and other elected officials wrote a letter urging the National Parks Service to shut down the area because of concerns over large gatherings endangering public health. Closing the Mall and Tidal Basin might be disappointing, but protecting the safety of D.C. residents is more important.
Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, a junior majoring in political science and psychology, is the opinions editor.
This article appeared in the March 26, 2020 issue of the Hatchet.