Graduating students celebrate Commencement, reflecting on ‘resilience’ through pandemic

Media Credit: Jordyn Bailer | Assistant Photo Editor

About 6,200 graduates whose college experiences were marred by the COVID-19 pandemic celebrated on National Mall Sunday.

Even without GW football games to attend, Class of 2022 graduate Vishva Bhatt said she forged a tight bond with her graduating class during the past four years, sharing a mutual passion to change the world.

Bhatt, the Class of 2022 speaker and an international affairs graduate, said students challenged themselves and their peers and asked “tough questions” despite the academic setbacks of the pandemic that shifted classes online for more than a year. About 6,200 graduates gathered on the National Mall Sunday for Commencement, where they said they have developed “resilience” after about one and a half years of their undergraduate or graduate education GW interrupted by the pandemic and virtual instruction.

Bhatt said students of all backgrounds and with different future plans have an innate urge to “do good” and can expose societal issues with effective solutions.

“The thing about going to school in the heart of the nation is that you are reminded every day that you are a part of something bigger,” Bhatt said.

She said her GW education was a “privilege” as a woman of color and a first-generation American. Bhatt said she had the ability to “innovate” throughout her undergraduate career, which she sees as a privilege while still learning from the mistakes she made along the way.

“I thought that coming to college would give me all the answers,” Bhatt said. “Instead, it has left me with more questions than ever before.”

Juliana Lewis, a master’s of public health graduate, said she started and ended her graduate school career in the pandemic. She said COVID-19 exposed a chain of public health related issues while her interest in health policy unfolded.

She said she took multiple health policy courses as a graduate public health student and enjoyed learning about the value of the Affordable Care Act to universal health coverage during the pandemic.

“The pandemic is not a good thing, but if anything, we’ve learned a lot of lessons and how to move forward from it,” Lewis said.

Graduates attended celebrations for individual schools from Thursday through Saturday prior to attending Sunday’s ceremony on the National Mall.

Parisa Akbarpour, a journalism graduate, said the small size of the School of Media and Public Affairs allowed students to make close connections with their classmates who would support each other at any time, carrying them through the pandemic. They said students are likely to share multiple classes, which created a strong camaraderie within the school.

“With SMPA there is sort of an understanding that we’re all sort of in it together,” Akbarpour said.

They said that they are looking forward to entering professional environments after spending their entire life as a student.

“I’m going to celebrate that by taking the time to relax now,” Akbarpour said.

George Commissiong, a civil engineering graduate, said he struggled to stay determined when classes went online in March 2020, and the Class of 2022’s ability to bounce back from the initial setback  of virtual instruction allowed them to push ahead to graduation.

He said commencement was a time for him to celebrate his next step – pursuing a master’s degree at GW after completing his undergraduate degree.

“The school, all of us here, we’re pretty resilient,” Commissiong said. “We have to push through all of it.”

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