Graduating Students Share Their Favorite Memories at GW

Forging lifelong friendships, saluting faculty, demonstrating at the Supreme Court, building a particle accelerator, traveling to Lisbon, merging theater and politics, sleeping in protest on the Capitol steps. The Class of 2023 has experienced it all.

The George Washington University Class of 2023 graduates will be recognized at Commencement on the National Mall on Sunday, May 21. Before that, GW Today asked some of the graduates to share their favorite GW memories. Please enjoy these memories from 2023 grads:

Grace Basile, B.S. Marketing

As a student employee at the Business School, I experienced GW both from a student and staff perspective. During my time as a member of the marketing and communications team, I was able to develop my graphic design skills tenfold and was even able to design for GWSB’s 2022 annual report. Working with my supervisor, Mary Catherine Chase, was incredible as she was constantly vouching for me to be able to attend events and gain invaluable experience. On that note, one of my favorite GW memories was when I was able to work the 2022 Commencement at the National Mall and combine these two perspectives: staff and student. I was able to watch my friends graduate and celebrate with them while taking photos for the event. I am incredibly proud and excited to graduate alongside the Class of 2023!

Grace Basile

headshot of Parker Blackwell

Parker Blackwell, B.A. Archaeology and Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies

Ultimately, my favorite memories from GW were created when the tremendous faculty brought their diverse and exciting life experiences to the classroom. I love to think back on the eclectic range of my professors, all with fascinating life stories: from a philosophy professor who protested at Tiananmen Square to an international affairs professor who brought guests from Freedom House to our seminars. In this context, it’s no surprise that a final project during my first semester at GW was to live in accordance with a philosophy for a week. I chose Taoism, and although I failed miserably to live in harmony with my restful self, I'll always remember it as one of the most formative weeks of my life.

Zeniya Cooley, B.A. Journalism and Mass Communication

My most memorable moment at GW was the time I attended a Race in America lecture where CNN legal analyst Laura Coates spoke with the activist Raymond Santana about his life.

Mr. Santana talked about his distressing experience with coercive police officers and how being branded as one of the “Central Park Five” (now the Exonerated Five) impacted him. Mr. Santana shared painful stories with the audience, but he also had more joyful moments, where he laughed and his face lit up. I remember thinking that I could almost see the jaunty kid he used to be—the boy who joked with friends and loved to play basketball.

After the talk, I stood up and applauded with tears in my eyes. That night, I learned about grave injustices but also about the beauty and resilience of the human spirit. I will always be grateful to Mr. Santana for his grace, bravery, and that boyish light he still carries.

Zeniya Cooley sitting on a park bench

Ellie D'Andria speaking into a microphone

Ellie D’Andria, B.A.  Education Policy and Child Development (Special Interdisciplinary Major)

The GW Jazz Orchestra (GWJO) added a great deal of vibrance to my undergraduate experience. That band is consistently filled with excellent musicians and genuine people. It was where I made some of my closest friends. We played at historic D.C. jazz clubs. I sang at Blues Alley, in the exact spot that Eva Cassidy recorded her “Live at Blues Alley” album in 1996. And there were countless smaller moments of musical magic: when the practice paid off and a note or phrase felt just right, when a soloist surprised everyone with a new idea, when I felt such a deep connection with another member of the band that we played the same thing at the same time without planning it. I love that kind of electricity. I am so thankful for GWJO, and everyone in it.

Mariefred Evans, M.P.S. Political Management

Some of my favorite memories from my time in GW’s Graduate School of Political Management were made outside of the classroom. My favorite memories were made unwinding with classmates each week at various coffee shops, happy hour spots or dinners after class. Following the last class of each course, we would invite our professors to join an open-invitation happy hour and enjoy the opportunity to get to know them outside the classroom, learn about their career path and strengthen our connections.

Four people, including Mariefred Evans, stand beside the GW bust

headshot of Kerrie Finegan

Kerrie Finegan, B.A. International Affairs 

My favorite part of GW has definitely been my time in TEDxFoggyBottom. I joined the student organization my freshman year and have been in it every year since. We spend the whole year planning for our annual TEDxFoggyBottom Conference whether it's recruiting speakers or creating the stage design. Through this org, I was able to meet and work with NASA officials, journalists, non-profit leaders and other incredible people from the D.C. area to help them make their own TED Talks. It was so cool to contribute to something on such a global scale, as all the talks are posted on TED’s website and YouTube channel afterward, some receiving over 1 million views. Not only has this organization helped me develop professionally, but I have made some of my closest friends in college here and am, overall, extremely grateful for my experiences in TEDxFoggyBottom. 

Gabriel Grauvogel, B.S. Physics

If I had to pick a favorite memory at GW, I would probably have to go with my final project for my intermediate lab 1 class. The whole process began on a whim of “I want to build a particle accelerator or do a scattering experiment,” which I thought would be potentially a little too much using what we had lying around the lab. But my research advisor, Axel Schmidt, was fully behind the idea! My lab partner and I managed to design a vacuum-sealed scattering chamber, develop a Monte Carlo simulation for our setup that utilized parallel processing and obtain real data with a gamma ray-emitting source. All of this was done with stuff at GW! The experience played a large part in solidifying experimental physics as something I want to pursue.

Gabe Grauvogal

Nora Hourseman

Nora Houseman, B.S. Chemistry

One of my favorite parts of GW is its location in the heart of such a powerful city. I love how students here can see and be a part of all the action this city is known for and can engage with and uplift the communities and movements around them. That proximity allowed me to take part in protests following the reversal of Roe v. Wade. I was in D.C. last summer when the ruling was overturned and was able to go at once to the Supreme Court. Being at GW empowered me to use my voice for women’s rights. In a time that felt so dark, being with others who were fighting for the same cause was inspiring and comforting.

Tien Huynh, B.S.  Biological Sciences and Cognitive Neuroscience

There are many moments here at GW that I will cherish forever, but the most memorable of all is the summer of my junior year when I got to stay at school and conduct research with funding from the Luther Rice Fellowship. Through this fellowship, I was able to experience what it’s like to be a microbiologist as an undergrad, conducting wet lab research, attending seminars, presenting at conferences and exploring the possible career paths I can pursue with my biology degree. Getting to meet other fellow undergrad researchers and field experts also inspired me to keep pushing the boundaries in research, as well as build friendships and mentorships that will last a lifetime. The opportunities that GW presented during that eventful summer are something that I will always remember and be grateful for.

Headshot of Tien Huynh

Nicole Karem

Nicole Karem, J.D., GW Law

I have had a lot of big “only-at-GW” moments while attending GW Law, and I could write about any of those as one of my favorite memories. But some of my best memories are the simple ones. In August, there was this beautiful day right before classes started, when my friends and I were on campus helping with orientation. We sat at tables on a patio and watched students on the quad. We talked and laughed and just enjoyed being in the moment for a while. There aren’t a lot of days in the life of a law school student when it’s possible to be truly carefree, but that was one of them. The big, exciting experiences shaped my time at GW, but the friendships I made and the simple moments are what meant the most during my time here.

Julia Kerrigan, B.A. Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences

One of my favorite memories from my time at GW was a Friday in my freshman year when I hauled myself out of my Thurston bed for a Fridays for Future climate action rally. I was rushing over to make sure I could get a good view of Greta Thunberg, and then I looked backward and saw she was walking with her crew right behind me! It was so cool to see such an influential figure and get the perspective that she really is just a young person, like me. 

headshot of Julia Kerrigan

Steven Mion

Steven Mion, M.F.A. Interior Architecture

My main design project one summer was to reimagine a ruined neoclassical theater in Lisbon—already restored as a modern event space—as a boutique hotel. Most of the design studio took place here in D.C., but for the last few weeks of the semester, we actually went to Lisbon to see how the design might work in context. One of the first things we did was tour the site of our theoretical hotel. Walking through the halls of the monumental building, it was amazing to see my ideas come to life in a whole new way. I saw the incredible potential of adaptive design at work, and how I could become part of an ever-evolving industry of breathing new life into old buildings. While the hotel I designed was a hypothetical project, I’m leaving GW ready to turn my ideas into real spaces that have a tangible impact on the people who use them.

Ugo Njeze, M.P.S. Sustainable Urban Planning

I really enjoyed our studio course where we worked with a local planning department in Arlington County, Virginia, to review some of their long-range planning practices. The class was very collaborative and team driven. We all brought our experiences and perspectives to each group session and were proud of the work we put in. There was a real sense of comradery when we were together. I really looked forward to coming to this class each week, and the lessons learned from the course have been significant for my own professional and personal development.

Ugo Njeze

Emmanuella Saforo

Emmanuella Saforo, J.D. GW Law

I knew that I could gain valuable practical experience by attending GW Law. Over the past three years, I participated in the Field Placement (Externship) program, Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics and Advocacy Competitions as a full-time student. Each experience was rewarding, I am very grateful to have had amazing faculty advisers and colleagues. Congratulations Class of 2023, continue to Raise High!

Anita Sagar, B.A. Political Science and Theatre

GW has helped me become a socially conscious storyteller. I came into college with a passion for performing arts and politics but didn’t yet understand how the two intersected. In my second year, my former academic advisor, Matthew Wilson, convinced me to take his graduate course on Decolonizing Shakespeare. I learned how postcolonial and feminist theory could be applied to performance to disrupt and challenge power structures. It’s surreal to be an artist in D.C. because the stories I’ve heard at Congressional hearings and the protests I’ve witnessed outside the Supreme Court now inspire my work. I’ve interned on the Hill and worked on political campaigns, yet my afternoons are spent at theatre rehearsals. I value my time at GW because it has allowed my art and activism to constantly inform each other. 

Photo of Anita Sagar in front of the U.S. Capitol

Carly Shaffer

Carly Shaffer, B.A. Political Communication

I always dreamed of being at the heart of national politics and during my time at GW, I was able to do exactly that. One of my favorite #OnlyAtGW moments was when I slept on the steps of the Capitol with Reps. Bush, Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez protesting the end of the eviction moratorium. I could not quite believe the fact that I was essentially having a sleepover with some of my biggest inspirations. As a result of sleepless nights on the Capitol steps, the eviction moratorium was extended. It reminded me why I am in this fight, and how much power these institutions can have when they want to serve.

Cristina Silva, B.F.A. Graphic Design, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

One of my favorite memories so far has been going to the Washington Hilton where they host the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and standing outside with my friends, watching as all these important and famous people walk into such an exclusive event. I got to see and meet people like John Legend and Chrissy Teigen, which was insane.

Cristina Silva

Ella Stern

Ella Stern, B.A. Journalism and Political Science

For a project in my broadcast reporting class, I decided to feature the GW GroW garden. Ten minutes into filming, I dropped the industry-sized camera on the hard concrete.

The garden is across the street from Amsterdam Hall, where a good friend of mine lived. I called her, not knowing how she could help, but knowing she would try. Within moments she was outside, helping me pick up the broken pieces of the camera and walking them with me back to SMPA.

Afterward, I called my mom in tears. She calmed me down as she had so many times throughout my last four years. She told me to look around at the community I had built at GW – she said they were my “found family.”

The camera was OK, and for that I was grateful. But I felt an even greater sense of gratitude for the people who had comforted me. People who were once strangers that lived on the same floor in my residence hall that I now can’t imagine my life without. It is thanks to these people that I have become who I am at GW. Some people say it takes a village, but the truth is, it takes a campus.

Zhangzhu Wan, B.A. Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies

It is hard to pick one favorite memory at GW, as GW has provided me with countless happy memories during my four years here. My favorite memory might be sitting by the wharf in Georgetown, looking at the pink-orange sunset reflected on the Potomac River and the rainbow-light-lit Kennedy Center. I will never forget the feeling of the breeze through my hair, as I sat there with my friend and talked about random things. Every time I walk past the wharf, I am calmed by the glittering river and the clouds in the sky. It is small moments like these with my dear friends that will always make me treasure my time at GW.

Zhangzhu Wan