GW Graduates Make Lasting Memories

The Class of 2017 reflect on their time at GW on Commencement day.

Pranav Nanda
Pranav Nanda, who graduated Sunday with a B.A. in international affairs, poses with his family near the base of the Washington Monument. He plans to teach high school social studies as part of Teach for America in the fall. (Photo by Rick Reinhard)
May 21, 2017

By Kristen Mitchell

Standing near the Washington Monument moments after receiving his bachelor's degree, Pranav Nanda stopped to take in the scenery. His view of the National Mall swarmed with new George Washington University alumni, members of the Class of 2017 who embodied all the reasons he decided to be a Colonial.

“I wanted to come to GW to be able to study international affairs in the nation’s capital, so kind of to have this look at the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the African American history museum and the White House, it’s kind of the culminating experience to that,” said Mr. Nanda, a graduate of the Elliott School of International Affairs with a B.A. in international affairs.

Mr. Nanda’s two sisters and parents, who live in rural New Hampshire, were all smiles as they posed for photos under gray skies, celebrating the time together as a family. In a few months, Mr. Nanda will move farther from home to Kansas City, Mo.,where he will teach high school social studies as part of Teach for America.

Mr. Nanda’s father, Munish Nanda, said he is proud of his son’s accomplishments and excited to see him thrive in his life after college.

“We want him to be happy, we want him to be successful, we want him safe, and if that is where his life takes him, we’re very happy,” he said. “We feel like we have given our children at least two things—one of them is wings and one of them is roots, so we’re happy to see him doing what makes him happy. Knowing him, he will always come back home.”

Pranav Nanda let out an embarrassed groan as his mother, Kumud Nanda, applauded her son’s compassion and desire to help others.

“He always tells me his job description is to give me some white hair,” she said. “I tell him to embarrass him sometimes is my job description.”


Junjie Wang, a School of Engineering and Applied Science graduate, says his time at GW was the fastest four years of his life. (Photo by Rick Reinhard)

An estimated 25,000 people filled the National Mall near the Washington Memorial Sunday morning for the university-wide commencement. While waiting in line, soon-to-be graduates joked with friends, swapping stories about their time at GW and snapped selfies.

Junjie Wang, who received his B.S. in computer science from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said he will miss Thursday night dinners at Crepeaway in Foggy Bottom and monument walks with friends.

“It feels just so fast. These are the fastest four years of my life,” he said. “I’ve made so many friends, so many connections with teachers here. Now just standing here and knowing I have accomplished so much, I am pretty proud of myself and pretty happy about it.”

Mr. Wang said he made many of his friends at GW through organizations like the Tabletop Gaming Society and the Japanese Animation Association. Those connections are what made his experience at GW unforgettable, he said.

Mr. Wang hopes to combine his passions for math and drawing to work in engineering and code design. He plans to stay in Washington, D.C., or return to his home state of New York.


Tayller Marcee, who graduated from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Sunday, will spend this summer interning at a Philadelphia law firm and studying for the LSAT. (Photo by Rick Reinhard)

Tayller Marcee, who graduated from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences with a B.A. in organizational sciences and a minor in psychology, said being involved with the Multicultural Student Services Center made GW a second home. The staff and older students there provided a support system when she was a freshman, and as an upperclassman she worked to give back as president of the Black Women’s Forum.

“It was important to me when I got here to feel good about myself and find that network of other smart, strong black women here at GW and in D.C. and make those friends and make those connections,” she said. “Once I was in the organization, it was also to support those incoming freshmen who felt the same way I did freshman year.”

Ms. Marcee said attending GW was the best decision she ever made. She applied early decision, was accepted and never looked back. Ms. Marcee has big plans for the future—she will intern with a law firm in her hometown of Philadelphia this summer while studying for the LSAT. She plans to apply to law schools in the fall and concentrate on a career in corporate law.

If she’s lucky, she said, she will have a chance to return to GW.

“Of course, I will be applying to GW Law,” she said. “If I came here again that would be the best thing.”


Stephanie Durbin flew back to Washington, D.C., from Georgia, where she works as a trauma center nurse, to accept her degree from the School of Nursing. (Photo by Rick Reinhard)

Stephanie Durbin’s degree from the School of Nursing was long overdue, she said. For years she dreamed of returning to college and entering the health care field, but between her husband’s career in the United States Navy and children, life got in the way.

Ms. Durbin flew to D.C. from Macon, Ga.,to participate in Sunday’s ceremony and officially receive her B.S.N. She finished her classwork in December and has since relocated to Georgia, where she works in a level-one trauma center.

“It was totally worth the trip to come back up here,” she said. “Work granted me to time off to come, but I have to be back Tuesday.”

Ms. Durbin decided she wanted to switch careers several years ago, and when her husband relocated for work, she had the opportunity to attend GW and experience life in Washington, D.C. She said the program and the supportive faculty were perfect for her.

“Going back to school later, it’s weird but it’s kind of nice at the same time. You know what works for you, and you know what doesn’t,” she said. “The nice thing about this program is that everybody had a real clear idea of what they wanted to do, everybody here is super driven.”

Tagging along for the ceremony was a stuffed animal hippo donning a GW shirt of his own. He is appropriately named George, she said.

“I just had to bring him,” she said. “Sometimes he comes to work with me.”

daniel thompson

Daniel Thompson graduated with a master’s degree from the Milken Institute School of Public Health Sunday. He wants to bring potentially life-saving healthcare access to refugee populations around the world. (Photo by Rick Reinhard)

Daniel Thompson, who graduated with a master’s degree from the Milken Institute School of Public Health, plans to combine his real-world experience and academic credentials to improve health care access for refugees around the world.

While lining up for the processional, Mr. Thompson, who works for the humanitarian organization Relief International, said he has seen the conditions facing people in South Sudan’s refugee camps. While visiting in December, he saw firsthand how impactful simple things we take for granted such as access to clean water can be.

“It’s easy to be quite pessimistic, but I believe with our combined interventions we can really make a difference in people’s lives,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to make a difference. That’s why I do what I do.”

Mr. Thompson was a Peace Corps volunteer in Gambia and has worked in the global health field for several years. He decided to pursue a master’s degree so his academic credentials would be in line with his real-world experience.

After two years of “sacrifices and hard work,” Mr. Thompson said he is excited to continue pursuing his passion. Next week, he will return to Africa on a three-week trip to Kenya, Sudan and South Sudan to assess health centers as part of an ongoing project to track health care access.

hannah sofield

Hannah Sofield graduated from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Sunday and plans to move back to her native Philadelphia. (Photo by Rick Reinhard)

As an only child, Hannah Sofield knew when she went to college she had to learn how to live on her own. This meant moving away from her native Philadelphia.

“As I said when I picked it, I am close enough that I can come home for the weekend, but not close enough that I can come home for dinner,” she said.

Ms. Sofield graduated with a B.S. in biological anthropology from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Sunday. After the ceremony she reunited with her parents, who were beaming with pride.

Her father, Roger Sofield, called the day one of the proudest moments of their lives.

“She has worked her entire life to get here, this was a goal, and she knocked that one out of the park,” he said. “It was just getting used to not having her in the house for four years.”

His daughter laughed. “I’m coming back, don’t worry,” she said. “You’ll be begging me to leave.”

Ms. Sofield’s mother, Michelle Sofield, said she couldn’t have asked for more from her daughter.

“She has achieved everything she has set out to so far,” she said. “That, in my opinion, is enough to make me proud for three lifetimes.”

Student Life


U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth Urges Graduates ‘to Get in the Arena’

May 21, 2017
Sen. Duckworth, Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West and The Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron received honorary degrees as 6,000 students graduated from GW.

George Washington Awards Recognize ‘Extraordinary Contributions’

May 21, 2017
Three GW community members received the award at this year’s university-wide Commencement.