Weekend Draws Alumni Back

President Knapp plays the congas with Earth Wind & Fire at Alumni Weekend 2012.
A record crowd of more than 2,800 alumni return to campus for Earth Wind & Fire, Taste of GW, class reunions, political brunch, alumni awards and more.
October 01, 2012

When legendary Earth Wind & Fire frontman Philip Bailey took the stage Friday night under the colorful lights of the Charles E. Smith Center, he posed a question to the energetic crowd: “Y’all ready to party?”

And this past weekend, the more than 2,800 alumni who returned to campus certainly were, making this year’s Alumni Weekend the university’s largest ever. The annual event, which also drew nearly 800 current students, faculty and staff, brought the George Washington community—past and present—together for four days of recognition, reunions, memories and fun.

Before Mr. Bailey and his fellow Grammy Award-winning bandmates rocked a packed Charles E. Smith Center at the weekend’s kick-off concert and reception Friday night, another highly successful group was recognized at Thursday night’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Awards at the W Hotel.

Bobby R. Burchfield, J.D. ’79; Kathleen M. Dumais, MVC B.A. ’80; Simon S. Lee, M.S. ’05; Paul D Miller, M.S. ’66, M.D. ’70; Raul Yzaguirre, B.S. ’70; and Matthew Tosiello, M.Ed. ’08 were awarded the university’s highest form of recognition for graduates at the 76th annual ceremony.

On Friday afternoon, the sixth annual Ramsey Student Investment Fund Conference brought together GW alumni from the finance world with current students who are managing the $1.5 million Ramsey Student Investment Fund, established in 2005 through a $1 million gift from GW Chairman of the Board of Trustees W. Russell Ramsey, B.A. ’81, and his wife, Norma.

After welcoming remarks from President Steven Knapp, the event featured a keynote address by Lee Fensterstock, a GW trustee and chairman and CEO of Fensterstock Associates, and an investing panel discussion with School of Business faculty and alumni.

The awards reception, investment seminar and concert—which featured Dr. Knapp on the congas for Earth Wind & Fire’s hit “September”—were just the beginning of the weekend’s activity-rich agenda. In addition to other festivities, affinity celebrations were held for multicultural, international, Latino and LGBT alumni, as well as Presidential Administrative Fellows, former Student Association presidents and more. GW’s Black Alumni Association held its IMPACT reception Saturday evening, and the classes of 2007, 2002, 1997, 1992, 1987, 1982 and 1962 held reunions throughout the weekend.

Daniel Ericson, chair of the class of 2002’s reunion committee and an adjunct professor of constitutional law at the university, enjoyed Friday night’s concert alongside college roommates Mike Lupo and Brian Pasquarelli, who traveled from New York City for the weekend’s festivities.

“I loved my time here,” Mr. Ericson said. Sticking around GW’s campus for his undergraduate, law school and teaching years, he said has been a rewarding experience, especially because he finds the students he now teaches to be “passionate, intellectually curious and better than they’ve ever been.”

On Saturday, Washington’s beautiful autumn weather cooperated for the Taste of GW festival. A record 18 area restaurants and catering companies owned or operated by GW alumni, including Founding Farmers, Luke’s Lobster, Pork Barrel BBQ and Cake Love, participated in the event that featured food, drink, music and entertainment on University Yard.

Returning to campus was also a chance for alumni to revert to an academic mindset with an offering of intellectually stimulating lectures and discussions featuring GW faculty, staff and affiliates. Saturday afternoon’s seminar “What’s the Buzz All About? GW’s Honeybees” invited alumni to view the university’s honeybee observation hive while learning from biological sciences professor Harmut Doebel and enjoy honey-centric treats in Bell Hall. The event, part of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences’ activities, was co-sponsored by the Green Alumni Network. 

On Sunday, politically minded alumni gathered in the Marvin Center’s Grand Ballroom to hear reflections on the upcoming presidential election from experts on both sides of the aisle over salmon, quiche and mimosas. Co-sponsored by Politico and GW’s Luther Rice Society, the brunch was moderated by Mark Kennedy, director of GW’s Graduate School of Political Management, and featured leading Democratic and Republican political strategists Celinda Lake and Brian Nienaber, M. A. ’99, who offered their insights on today’s political climate.

Ms. Lake and Mr. Nienaber answered questions from Mr. Kennedy and alumni in the audience at the event, agreeing that a number of factors, including international incidents and this week’s first presidential debate could still determine the course of the race. Weighing in on the debates specifically, Mr. Nienaber, vice president at Republican research and strategy firm the Tarrance Group, suggested Gov. Romney could shift the tide in his direction by convincing the American people he has what it takes to be the leader of the free world. “If you come out of it and you look presidential, that’s half the battle,” Mr. Nienaber said.

Pop culture can also make a big impact on a campaign, Ms. Lake, the founder of Democratic research firm Lake Research Partners, said. In the debates, Gov. Romney and President Obama need to be wary of “anything that can be used on late night TV.” The panelists also fielded questions about the weekly Battleground Poll, what drives voters and President Bill Clinton’s impact on the race.

According to Ms. Lake, programs put together by the GSPM, like the brunch, and the university’s commitment to bipartisan political analysis are a “tremendous national resource.”

It’s a resource that’s served Mr. Nienaber well in the years since he was a GW graduate student. The Battleground Poll, headed up by the two panelists’ firms and co-sponsored by George Washington and Politico is just one example of the valuable contributions alumni, like those who attended the weekend’s activities, are still making to the university every day.

“As a GSPM alum, I really enjoy the opportunity to come back and meet these people who are big supporters of this poll,” Mr. Nienaber said. “It’s really great to give back and see all the alumni who have been so good to the school.”

President Knapp Jams with Earth Wind & Fire