Thousands expected at conclusion of bicentennial celebration, officials say

Media Credit: Grace Hromin | Senior Photo Editor

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., will deliver the keynote address at the ceremony and receive an honorary degree.

Updated: Sept. 27, 2021 at 3:09 p.m.

GW will cap off its bicentennial this weekend with a three-day celebration comprising nearly 20 events, headlined by a postponed Commencement on the National Mall for the classes of 2020 and 2021.

The weekend celebration, called “Our Moment, Our Momentum: GW Centuries Celebration Weekend,” marks the end of GW’s eight-month bicentennial celebration that began in February with a virtual gathering of alumni and top University leaders. The weekend will include campus tours, open houses for GW’s various schools and featured programs like an alumni reception and a “Bicentennial Bash” – a gathering for GW community members in Kogan Plaza in the evening after Commencement.

This week’s Commencement on the National Mall will mark the University’s first in-person ceremony since 2019.

Officials moved Commencement online for the classes of 2020 and 2021 due to public health concerns tied to the COVID-19 pandemic. GW was the only one of the five largest universities in the District to hold its Commencement online for the Class of 2021, and some seniors held small independent gatherings at the Mall this spring to celebrate the occasion.

University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said more than 21,000 people are registered to attend Commencement – including 5,000 recent graduates and 15,000 additional guests, including faculty and alumni. Nearly 12,000 people are registered for the Bicentennial Bash, she said.

“This weekend is a great time for our community members to come together and show their pride in GW, our impact and our community,” Nosal said in an email. “Especially after the previous year and a half, this celebratory weekend gives the GW community a chance to gather together and deepen a sense of belonging, connection and commitment.”

Nosal declined to say how much money officials hope to fundraise from the weekend’s events and how much money they spent on the events.

Officials postponed three events on the Mount Vernon Campus scheduled for this weekend, including a tour of campus, a tailgate hosted by the athletic department and the “Vern Harvest,” according to an email sent to GW community members Friday.

“Unfortunately, due to overwhelming interest, we are over capacity for the events scheduled to be held on our beautiful Mount Vernon Campus,” officials said in the email.

The weekend also leads into the Board of Trustees’ open meeting next Tuesday, when officials expect to provide an update on the Colonials moniker renaming deliberations, Board Chair Grace Speights said.

“I don’t expect any vote or decisions then because we are just starting to do that,” Speights said in an interview earlier this month.

University President Thomas LeBlanc said in January that he expected the Special Committee on the Colonials Moniker to finalize its renaming recommendations – which would precede the Board’s consideration – by the end of the past academic year, but officials declined to say in July if the committee met the target.

Officials announced updated COVID-19 protocols last week for those participating in the weekend’s events, requiring attendees to wear masks outdoors and indoors and present proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test from the previous 72 hours.

“Protecting the health and safety of our community during the weekend is the University’s top priority,” the announcement reads. “The updated safety protocols will be required for all attendees at events on- and off-campus as part of the celebration.”

Alumna and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., will deliver the keynote address at Commencement and will receive an honorary Doctor of Public Service along with former Board Chair Nelson Carbonell.

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases who received an honorary Doctor of Public Service from the University in 2015, will also receive the president’s medal at the ceremony – the highest honor that can be bestowed by the University president.

Cindy Liu, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health, and Andrew Maurano, an associate clinical professor of emergency medicine, will also receive president’s medals at the ceremony for their work during the pandemic.

“I am thrilled that during this historic in-person event we will have the privilege of honoring three heroes of the pandemic, including Dr. Fauci and two of our very own University community members, Professors Cindy Liu and Andrew Maurano,” LeBlanc said in an email last month. “They represent the many scientists and frontline workers who have led us through the most challenging days of the pandemic.”

The University will also confer a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree on Lonnie Bunch, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution who served as the Commencement speaker at the virtual ceremony in May, but he will not attend the event on the National Mall.

Commencement on the Mall will coincide with the Women’s March rally for abortion justice, where demonstrators will march from Freedom Plaza to the Supreme Court starting one hour after Commencement.

This post was updated to include the following:
This story was updated to reflect a statement from Nosal, stating that Bunch will not attend the commencement ceremony on the National Mall.

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