Class of 2017 Looks Back on Moments That Mattered

Soon-to-be GW graduates share favorite college memories as they prepare for 2017 Commencement.

May 11, 2017

With the 2017 Commencement on the National Mall only days away, GW Today asked seniors and graduate students to reflect on their favorite memories during their time at the George Washington University.

We heard of fulfilling collaborations. Intimacy gained from reaching out and reaching back. Athletic success. And those unexpected moments of alumni generosity. Here are memorable moments from some members of the Class of 2017:


David Hernandez-Pineda, biology with a minor in psychology

Arriving at the George Washington University in fall 2013, David Hernandez-Pineda had a general idea that he wanted a career in medicine. But the specifics were yet to come. That changed with an EMT course that required students to take a series of ambulance ride-alongs. His were with the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department in suburban Maryland.

“We received a call. A 6-year-old girl had suffered a seizure. We rushed to the scene. 

“The little girl was very disoriented, confused, scared and weak. The team took her vital signs, checked neurological responses, gave her oxygen and started to get information from the family. I was in training, so I mainly carried equipment and handed the EMTs what they needed while we waited for the advanced life support unit to show up.

“They arrived, and we carried her onto the ambulance. At that point she had another seizure. It was organized chaos. The paramedics did everything to stabilize her and get her to the hospital.

“A week later we learned that she survived only because of the quick and diligent response of EMS. That’s when I knew that I wanted to go into emergency medicine to make a difference in someone’s life the way the EMS crew and hospital staff gave that family a chance to see their child grow up.”


Kathleen Hunt, political science, journalism and mass communications

A self-proclaimed political “nerd,” Ms. Hunt has polished her communications skills with the coveted opportunities that sit blocks away from the Foggy Bottom Campus. She interned at the Office of Management and Budget and for Commencement speaker Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), both when she was a member of the U.S. House and most recently in her Senate office.

“My most #OnlyatGW moment was participating in an NBC panel in Lisner, joining a discussion about millennials’ role in the 2016 election.

“I was literally given a stage to showcase all that I had learned during my time at GW, through courses in media history and political theory, as well as through my internships on the Hill and at the White House.

“The most important lesson I learned at GW was how to engage in debate intellectually and respectfully.”

Ms. Hunt added her professors have played an integral role in her GW experience, in and out of the classroom. One of them even invited her to a high-profile dinner at the National Press Club.

Her dining companions? ABC News chief global affairs correspondent Martha Raddatz and Janet Brown, executive director for the Commission on Presidential Debates.


Conor Lyman, mechanical engineering

As a mechanical engineering student and Clark Scholar, Conor Lyman has big dreams of working in aviation after graduation. He says his favorite “Only at GW” moment was at a School of Engineering and Applied Science Hall of Fame reception at National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Va., in 2014.

The event was after regular operating hours and attendees were able to walk around and look at pieces of aviation history on display. This included a SR-71 Blackbird, the world's fastest jet-propelled aircraft and one of his favorite planes.

“The dinner itself was at the tail of a space shuttle,” he said.

Mr. Lyman also met the director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, a SEAS alumnus, who offered to help him when he started looking for jobs and internships.

“That was probably the coolest connection I made,” he said.

As part of his senior capstone, Mr. Lyman and a partner entered the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ “Design/Build/Fly” competition and attempted to build a working model airplane with folding wings. On competition day in Tucson, Ariz. the plane didn’t take off, but Mr. Lyman said he still learned a lot.

He hopes GW teams in the coming years can build on their work and that the competition will become a staple capstone project.

“It was too bad it didn’t work out, but it was still cool to go through the whole process,” he said “Hopefully it will stick around.”


Alisha Malkani, international affairs and women's studies 

After attending a small liberal arts high school in Massachusetts, Alisha Malkani saw her four years at GW as an opportunity to branch out and take advantage of the nation’s capital. She seized professional opportunities, scoring internships with NGOs and Capitol Hill offices.

She also used her time to explore her South Asian identity. Ms. Malkani worked as an executive board member of the university’s South Asian Society throughout her entire GW career. She became president of the organization in 2016, and helped host the South Asian Society’s first “Brunch Without Borders," a collaborative event that brought together the multicultural community at GW.

“Through my time with the organization, I have been able to expand my knowledge of South Asian diasporic and regional issues and develop my leadership and management skills,” she said.


Leslie Ogu, computer science

During his time at GW, Leslie Ogu didn’t just honor black history. He became part of it.

In 2015, Mr. Ogu attended the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March as president of the GW Black Student Union. He joined thousands of activists and community leaders on the National Mall to call for justice and remember the lives of young black men killed by police.

“I remember having an overwhelming sense of pride and content at how the black community came together to honor the legacy of those who paved the way for us years ago.

“It was very empowering seeing how not only our community unites, but also seeing individuals from all around the country congregate in one place for a momentous occasion.”

Bringing communities together has been central to Mr. Ogu’s experience on campus. He came to the university hoping to build a supportive network for himself and for others. By all accounts, he succeeded: Mr. Ogu served as the co-president of the National Society of Black Engineers; copy editor of the ACE Magazine; student leader of the SEAS Initiative; and member of the African Student Association and Black Men’s Initiative.


Rebecca Manikkam, accounting

As a freshman, Rebecca Manikkam knew she wanted to get better at speaking in front of large crowds. So of course when she heard of a School of Business competition whose winner would be required to speak in front of a large crowd, she entered. And she won.

“I wrote the Class of 2017 ‘Oath of Honor’ as part of a competition within the First Year Development Program course in the School of Business. I didn’t think I had a good chance of winning, so I was really surprised when they announced me as the winner.

“I had the opportunity to recite these vows on stage in Lisner Auditorium: 'We the students of the George Washington University School of Business promise to achieve greatness not through selfish ambition, but through service-minded actions. We take a stand today to walk in courage against pressure, greed and complacency.'

 “I led my classmates in the oath at an event featuring Susan Eisenhower, where she discussed the importance of ethics and honor in business, and at the Richard W. Blackburn Endowed Lecture on Civility and Integrity.

 “I remember meeting the keynote speakers from both events backstage. Afterwards, I was invited to have dinner with them and other guests, including President Knapp and New York Times columnist David Brooks. 

“After writing the speech and presenting it, I became very interested in creative writing…and eventually joined the GW Writing Center as a consultant.” 


Chelsea Raineri, sport, event and hospitality management

Chelsea Raineri finishes her time at GW as one of the university’s most accomplished gymnasts, a career that included East Atlantic Gymnastics League Rookie of the Year in 2014, nine All-EAGL First Team honors and GW’s third-ever NCAA Championship qualifier in her senior year.

"There will always be many memories that I will keep close to my heart after I graduate from GW. However, there is one I will never forget.

“When I was a freshman, I made it to NCAA Regionals as an individual qualifier. It was by far the worst competition of my gymnastics career. I had fallen on my vault, which I had never done in competition.

"My coach, Margie Foster-Cunningham, pulled me out of the arena and said, ‘You are stronger than you think you are.’

“From that day forward, whenever I encounter a challenge, I remind myself of the words she spoke to me and always make it through the challenges on top."


Angela Sako, master’s in public policy

Angela Sako was just 14, a recently arrived immigrant from Albania by way of Italy who spoke little English, when her father died unexpectedly. Her grief was intense. But with the help of friends and family, she emerged from that darkness to earn a full-ride scholarship and two degrees from GW: a B.A. in international affairs, in 2015, and a master’s in public policy that she will accept in 2017 Commencement. That same day, Ms. Sako will stand on the National Mall before her family and thousands of others, sharing her story as the George Washington University’s 2017 Commencement student speaker.

“During my time at GW, I’ve met my best friends and fallen in love. I’ve attended classes with distinguished professors and talented peers. I’ve sat in on meetings with world leaders, and I’ve held internships that have jumpstarted my career.

“Each one of these experiences is filled with memories that makes it difficult to pick just one favorite GW moment, but if I have to choose, I would have to say my favorite GW moment was being selected as the Commencement speaker. This honor has granted me an amazing opportunity to publicly express how this university has changed my life trajectory, and publicly thank the members of our incredible community."


Carlo Wood, sport, event and hospitality management

As a Multicultural Student Services Center employee and a former Colonial Inauguration leader and Student Association senator, Carlo Wood hasn’t shied away from the limelight. That visibility resulted in one of his most meaningful GW moments.

“When I was working as a CI leader, I met tons of prospective students. My favorite moment was when a woman came up to me after a session I led and said ‘I’ve been really worried about how my son would thrive at college, but now that I’ve met you and seen how much you’re accomplishing at GW, I feel safe leaving him here.’

“As a gay black Southerner from a small town, I knew what kind of challenges her son probably faced. So I was really glad to be able to show both of them how bright the future could be.”


Anthony Garber, exercise science

Anthony Garber was nervous when he came to GW. He wasn’t sure how well he would fit in with his classmates after spending eight years in the Marine Corps. He was older than most undergraduates, married and a veteran who had been in the military since he was 18, a tenure that included deployment in Iraq.

Mr. Garber is majoring in exercise science in the Milken Institute School of Public Health. He said once he got to Foggy Bottom, he was surprised at how easily he was accepted by his younger classmates and was able to build meaningful relationships with professors.

“That just makes me feel like I’m a normal person, I’m not isolated as a veteran, I’m not isolated as an old guy,” he said. “I’m just a normal student, and it’s great.”

Mr. Garber will continue his education this summer as a physical therapy doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. He wants to work with geriatric patients—a field less glamorous than working with athletes, he said.

“I like working with older people,” he said. “We need people in that realm.”

As an undergraduate student, Mr. Garber did research measuring tremors in patients with Parkinson’s disease. He said the experience has pushed him to work with patients dealing with chronic diseases.

“If I can move into a profession that helps better those people’s quality of life, like physical therapy, then I think that’s a great thing,” he said. “Being able to be involved with research at GW has affected me in a great positive way.”


Student Life


Four Years with the Class of 2017

May 08, 2017
GW Today looks back at top stories from seniors’ time on campus.

University Announces 2017 Honorary Degree Recipients

March 06, 2017
Tammy Duckworth, Nadja West and Marty Baron will be honored at Commencement.