Commencement at GW means one thing — National Mall and monument graduation photos of new GW alums.
The desire to flex your connection to GW under a stoic Abraham Lincoln is perfectly understandable, as after living in the heart of the nation’s capital for the past few years, students may want to show off the iconic landmarks that served as their backyards one last time. But to stand out on your friends’ Instagram feeds and display a different side of the city apart from the shadow of the U.S. Capitol, try one of these spots around campus for grad photos.
For the movie buff: “The Exorcist” steps
Corner of 36th and Prospect streets NW
D.C. isn’t a city brimming with connections to the film industry like Los Angeles or New York City. But the District is still home to a slice of movie history via “The Exorcist” steps in Georgetown.
Located on the corner of 36th Street NW and Prospect Street, the narrow stairwell is surrounded on one side by a cobblestone wall and on the other by a salmon-colored brick apartment building. Light shines down the small stone arch at the top of the stairs, providing the perfect illumination for students as they take their photos.
But the rustic feel of the stairwell isn’t why it was recognized as a D.C. landmark in 2015. The stairs were featured in the 1973 horror classic “The Exorcist,” when priest Damien Karras (Jason Miller) is thrown to the bottom of the steps by the demonically possessed Regan MacNeil (Linda Blair).
While setting a joyous celebration of the culmination of your four years at GW at a location famous for its use in one of the scariest films ever made, the stairs are a legitimately pleasant locale. The bright colors and pastoral setting make them an unexpected but scenic spot to take commencement photos, especially for graduating cinephiles.
Plus, any devil’s advocates caught up with their own demons will relish the chance to pose lying down at the bottom of the steps.
For the foodie: Ben’s Chili Bowl
1213 U St. NW
Many find one of the best parts about attending school in the heart of the District is the D.C. food scene — the city is brimming with delicious local chains like Duke’s Grocery and upscale eateries like Le Diplomate, where multiple U.S. senators might walk through the door on a Friday night. But no D.C. restaurant is as famous as Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street because of its history in the District and the numerous celebrities like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington who have wandered in searching for a chili dog.
The restaurant is most known for being the home of the half-smoke, the eatery’s chili dog, which is drowned for hours in their homemade chili sauce, but they also offer a variety of burgers, fries and even some vegetarian options. But 65-year-old chili joint doesn’t just have iconic food, it also boasts bold decorations inside and outside of the building, making it the ultimate spot for foodie seniors to snap their graduation pictures.
The front of the restaurant features a fire-engine red and yellow sign hanging underneath a white-brick arch informing viewers they are at a Washington landmark. A bear statue, colorfully decorated with pop art patchwork and an illustration of Ben’s chili bowl, plunked in front of the windowfront also gives graduates someone to pose with if any family members can’t make it.
The side of the building hosts a vibrant mural commemorating African American history, with Black icons like Barack Obama and Taraji P. Henson. After you finish adjusting lighting, make sure your smile is just right and take some postable photos, you can pop into the restaurant and grab a half-smoke — just be sure not to get the sauce on your formal wear.
For someone who wants their own space: Theodore Roosevelt Island
700 George Washington Memorial Parkway, McLean, Virginia
While the National Mall is iconic in American history, taking graduation photos there poses the problem of numerous tourists or other graduates wandering into the background of your photos. Rather than let random people be a part of your special moment, escape to the less crowded Theodore Roosevelt Island to get your history and nature fix.
Located in the Potomac River, the island is brimming with both the story of America and the environment — just without so many people around. Roosevelt Island has, appropriately, a towering statue of a triumphant-but-rusted Theodore Roosevelt holding up a fist in celebration in its center, ideal for American history enthusiasts to pose beside as they also celebrate their triumph over GW.
For students more drawn to the National Mall for its green spaces, Theodore Roosevelt Island has flora and fauna in spades — you can hike all over the island to find the most scenic tree or lake by which to smile at the camera. Particularly beautiful is the island’s more marsh-like area full of tall grasses and rustic bridges to see D.C. landmarks like the Georgetown waterfront — but be careful, though this part of the island isn’t hopping with tourists, wild deer may pass by in the background and photobomb you themselves.
For the fun lover: A very big chair
3500 R St. NW
Graduation photos are meant to capture a crucial moment in one’s life, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be fun. To encapsulate the joy of graduating college in a more humorous way, stop by the giant adirondack chair in Georgetown.
Located outside the Duke Ellington School of the Arts on R Street, the 14-foot tall, bright-green chair is the perfect spot to take a series of funny graduation photos. Posing on top of the chair gives anyone who looks at the photo a chuckle as they squint to try and find you in the center of the behemoth sculpture.
Even just trying to haul yourself up onto the chair epitomizes the college experience, making the spot even more fitting for graduation photos. At first, you may really struggle to get your footing and figure out a way onto the giant lawn chair, but once you beat gravity to make your way up, the only appropriate way to capture the triumphant occasion is with a photoshoot.
This article appeared in the May 15, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.