Like most seniors, Hannah Sessler wanted her graduation to celebrate the four years at GW that helped her find a career path.
Sessler, a double major in journalism and mass communication and theater, said she was motivated by her peers and felt encouraged to pursue her passions for both theater and journalism. When she receives her diploma in the mail this summer, Sessler said it will commemorate the senior thesis, a co-directed play, she couldn’t present and the show she couldn’t perform in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I felt that everything was taken away, but by sheer will and perseverance to fix everything, we did,” Sessler said. “To me, graduation means rising above and thanking everyone that helped us get here, even though it was unconventional this year.”
Seniors said despite changes to their graduation plans, they are still celebrating the end of their four years and using the time before their careers begin to look back at their time on campus. They said celebrating Commencement on the National Mall with peers would have marked the years they spent navigating their careers and finding interests outside the classroom, like community service.
Julia Scott, who will graduate with a degree in political science, said she transferred to GW in the spring of her sophomore year because she wanted a larger school than the liberal arts college she initially attended. She said graduation would have commemorated the initiative she took to take on relatively larger lectures and adapt to more difficult courses than her original school.
“I didn’t have the best time for a long time,” Scott said. “And when I finally figured it out, I looked forward to being able to celebrate that achievement of sticking with it and figuring it out on my own.”
Lena Scarpulla, who will graduate with a degree in marketing and event management, said she found the cancellation of commencement “frustrating” because it was an experience she had looked forward to since she committed to the University in 2016.
“I could see myself being a student at GW and I wanted to spend the next four years of my life in this city, on this campus,” she said in an email.
Since she arrived at GW, Scarpulla said she has grown her own confidence and discovered that she is passionate about marketing and event planning.
“GW is my home away from home. It is the place where I found myself, my best friends and my lifelong passions,” she said.
Rachael Brady, a graduating senior double majoring in international affairs and Spanish, said one of the biggest accomplishments of the past four years was serving as an Alternative Break trip leader on a trip to El Paso, Texas, in January. Brady said seeing students come together after fundraising and planning the trip, then working alongside site volunteer leaders in El Paso to advocate for immigrant and community rights was an “incredible” experience she’ll commemorate when she graduates.
Brady added that as a member of GW Catholics, many of the traditions near Commencement, like a senior slideshow and a baccalaureate mass, are being held over a video call.
Emma Vollmer, who will graduate with a degree in neuroscience, said she was looking forward to starring in her first musical since freshman year and celebrating the completion of her neuroscience degree. She stopped participating in theatre the past couple of years but rejoined as a senior, landing a lead role in the spring production of “Heathers,” she said.
Vollmer said graduation was meant to celebrate moving on to the next chapter in her life. She was originally planning on moving to Orlando, Florida, to work in the Disney college program at The Magic Kingdom. Following the park’s closure, the program was canceled. Vollmer now plans on staying in D.C. where she is applying to jobs as a medical assistant.
“I was doing so many things to try and make this such a good show, and I was really happy and really proud of how it was going,” she said. “It was going to be my last show of schooling and there was something very different about that.”
Caroline Friesen, a graduating senior double majoring in anthropology and international relations and affairs, said graduation would have marked the four years she spent as a camp counselor for GW’s Camp Kesem, which provides programming for children whose loved one has battled cancer. She said senior year would have been her last as a camp counselor.
Friesen, who was president of the chapter of Pi Beta Phi Sorority in her sophomore year, said that she was looking forward to celebrating her time in Pi Beta Phi by attending all of the special senior events the sorority puts on and by wearing her sorority cord at graduation.
“There is something so powerful about being in that cap and gown and being with all of your friends as they say your name while you walk across the stage,” she said.