Live From the Mall: Members of the Class of 2024 Share Favorite GW Memories on Commencement Day

Graduates discussed the opportunities that came with going to college in the nation’s capital, learning from phenomenal faculty members, creating community with one another and more.

May 19, 2024

Class of 2024

In the shadows of the Washington Monument Sunday, GW Today writers talked with members of the Class of 2024 about their time at the George Washington University. What memories stand out as highly impactful? What or whom will they remember most?

They shared stories about their friends, taking advantage of living in the nation’s capital, singing the national anthem for a debate between two senators on campus, learning from faculty who worked for the FBI and CIA, having a Smithsonian museum for a classroom and going to Sierra Leone for a capstone project. Here, in their own words, are some thoughts GW graduates shared on how the university shaped them. (Comments have been edited for clarity and length.)

Jared Ahmed

Jared Ahmed, J.D.
GW Law

One thing I’ll always remember is having people I could call at any hour of the day or night for support and help. I once called a friend and classmate for help at 3 in the morning when we had an exam later that morning. I don’t think I woke her up—I think she was up late studying too if I remember correctly—but she took it very well. She gave me the practice questions and the answers, and for that, I will definitely always be grateful.

Peter Eggeriding

Peter Eggeriding, M.A. international affairs
Elliott School of International Affairs

Our capstone class was phenomenal. We had Professor George Moose and some members of our group traveled to Sierra Leone, and we got to learn and explore a lot. It was very exciting and really amazing to put together a paper and learn a lot about an interesting topic. That was an awesome experience. And this whole weekend has also been phenomenal. It feels so amazing to be out at the Mall and to be celebrating with all of my friends. That’s the one thing that's sticking out right now.

Matthew Flanagan

Matthew Flanagan, Ed.D., special education
Graduate School of Education and Human Development

For a doctoral student the pinnacle of the experience is that moment when they come back in, and they say “Doctor Flanagan.”

Aliyah Hunt

Aliyah Hunt, B.A. international affairs
Elliott School of International Affairs

My favorite memory is studying abroad. I got to study abroad with 21 kids who were also in the school, and they became like family to me. We had the most fun. We went on the GW Madrid program, and I recommend anyone to go on it because it was the best six months of my life. We got to learn and just really immerse ourselves into culture and grow closer as a community, even though we were away from campus. That's amazing.

Now that it is graduation day, it kind of feels surreal. It's something that I've been looking forward to since freshman year, especially starting online with COVID. I couldn't wait to get in-person. And now it’s bittersweet that it's over. I'm excited for the future, but I will miss GW.

Priya Kannusamy

Priya Kannusamy, B.S.H.S., clinical research administration
School of Medicine and Health Sciences

My daughter had an extremely rare genetic disorder. She was almost 20 when she passed away in 2019, and then COVID hit, and I was just drowning in sorrow. I needed something to hold on to. I’ve always been interested in the health sciences, and I was a parent advocate for more research into my daughter’s condition. I decided to go back to school. GW was a great fit for the flexibility—I was able to take all my classes, to work part time and to travel back to India where my family lived.

I actually was the undergraduate student speaker at the SMHS commencement ceremony yesterday, and as I said in my speech, the lesson I’ve learned is to take everything one step at a time. Take the first step, and other things will fall into place. And value your support system, the people rooting for you—my husband, my son, my mom and dad, my sister and my nephew are all here today. I’m about to enter my fifth decade of life, but I'm here! It's never too late. And my daughter is my inspiration always. 

Natalie Kisak

Natalie Kisak, M.A., environmental resources policy
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

I would say that one of the best parts would have been the capstone class. I did my master's in environmental resource policy with Dr. Rachel Emas. And she was so enthusiastic and was always willing to help. She was just really in all the students’ corner to make sure that we got the support that we needed in order to get through capstone work and also balance our school life with being able to work with pro bono clients and still enjoying our last semester. To be here at graduation feels great. It feels like such a weight has been lifted to know that I've made it. I've got my master's.

Alexandra Laing

Alexandra Laing, Ed.D., leadership and administration
Graduate School of Education and Human Development

I worked in K-12 for the last 16 years, and I started my doctorate in the fall of 2020 in the COVID year, an adventure. I’m very happy to say I’m graduating with my doctorate. I love that we have a cohort, go through your process with a set group of individuals, you need to connect both in class and outside of class. I created a path-to-doctor of friends, and we would get together, and we would write. We would go for writing weekends. We would have writing sessions. We would be each other’s partners through the process. It grows your brain, your intelligence, your scholarship, and it changes you. You need a community around you that understands that.

Kathleen Lauer

Kathleen Lauer, M.A., museum studies
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

I got to take a lot of classes over at the Smithsonian buildings, which was really exciting. For one of my courses, I got to go out to their museum support center and go behind the scenes and get to be really hands on with a lot of the objects that are in their storage and do research on those. It was really exciting to get to be very hands on and really experience the museum from the inside and not just in the classroom.

I am really excited for today. A little bit nervous for the future and seeing where I'm going to go from here. But very excited to be here. And, you know, being on the National Mall is such a unique experience here to Washington, D.C., and to GW. So I'm very excited to see what's going on and see Jen Psaki speak.

Aileen Legayada

Aileen Legayada, M.P.H., healthcare policy and management
Milken Institute School of Public Health

I'm an online student, so this was the first time I’ve been on campus, and I love it. This is where the pulse is, the beat of what's happening in current events. It’s refreshing to be here and remind myself where we are and what we’ve achieved. It's fantastic.

Nadia Lischke

Nadia Lischke, B.A., music, B.S., biology
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

There’s a group called the Senate Project, and they do a partnership with the Bipartisan Policy Group. There was a debate on campus between [Sen. Chris] Coons (D.-Conn.) and [Sen. Marco] Rubio (R-Fla.), and my teacher recommended me to sing the national anthem at the event. So that was pretty cool. I got to go backstage and meet them there. Their wives were so nice!

Austin McCall

Austin McCall, M.S., data analytics
School of Engineering and Applied Science

My degree program allowed me to take a lot of classes outside my domain. My favorite class was probably network defense, even though I don't really have a background in cybersecurity. The energy that the professors brought to it was so impressive. I think they were working at the Justice Department in cybersecurity. I can't imagine that happening anywhere else, where you’re able to work directly with the people that are helping secure our government’s infrastructure. So that was a driving force that got me to class while also working full time—they were doing that too and somehow, they had more energy than I did!

Kristopher McColley

Kristopher McColley, M.A., speech-language pathology
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Because GW is in the center of D.C., we get a huge, diverse patient population to deal with. In my clinical externships and at the GW learning clinic which was one of the major driving points for coming here. We were just thrown into the speech and learning clinic and given patients. One of my first patients was a minority student. It was good to connect with him on that level. I don’t think I would have been able to get a broad, diverse patient population anywhere else.

Asif Mobin

Asif Mobin, M.B.A.
School of Business

Gosh, the most impactful thing that stands out is just the inclusivity and being able to connect with students across the globe. I had classmates from all across the world—India, China and all across America. I feel like being able to have that opportunity to talk to people and work with them in group projects was amazing.

Briana O'Hearn

Briana O’Hearn, Master of Human Resources
School of Business

The thing that stood out the most about my program is definitely the diversity, just meeting with everyone, even online, and having the different groups and different cultures. Especially pursuing a master’s, we’re all using it for different things, and we’re coming from working full-time already. So it’s cool to see everyone’s lives already established and how they’re integrating this new level of education. I’ve just enjoyed learning from different cultures.

Emily Ortega

Emily Ortega, M.P.S., homeland security
College of Professional Studies

I’ll remember learning from faculty who have firsthand experience in agencies that I've always dreamed about working with, like the CIA or FBI. I grew up watching criminal investigative stories. It just seems important, and it's always been a dream to do something that mattered to protect the nation. Learning from faculty members who worked directly with those agencies made me feel I was getting the most out of my learning experience. I hope to come back to Washington, D.C.—there’s so much to do here and so much to learn!

Michael Pissos

Michael Pissos, M.P.S., political management
Graduate School of Political Management

I’ll remember all of the opportunities and the experiences I’ve had at GW. The networking events, the faculty that I was able to work with and the students have all been terrific. I studied advanced legislative procedure with Professor Martin B. Gold and speechwriting with Professor John McConnell. Those were terrific classes. The professors couldn't have been better. I learned an absolute ton from both of them, just getting to know them and hearing about their experiences. Professor Gold has been in D.C. since about 1963. Professor McConnell wrote speeches for George W. Bush. Just hearing their experiences and the lessons that they’ve learned throughout their careers has been fascinating.

Thejasvi Ramu

Thejasvi Ramu, M.A. in strategic and media communication
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Social wise, it has to be all the friends that I made. It’s funny how we became such good friends—like, these people are showing up to my wedding this summer. The memories we share go from things like Friendsgiving and building those small, very stereotypical American memories to just having each other’s back when we aren’t feeling well.

Academically, I never thought I would do a master’s degree. I didn’t do so great in undergrad—I peaked in high school. But I went out and I worked and came back to grad school and was so proud to see how much I was capable of, and now that I look back at my GPA and how I performed in my classes, I’m just so proud of myself.

Samantha Roche

Samantha Roche, Doctor of Nursing Practice (D.N.P.), health policy
School of Nursing

Graduation being iconic right here on the Mall. The connections, the classmates, the colleagues I met along the way. We have dragged each other across the finish line at some point and those connections hopefully will last a lifetime. Sometimes just finishing those group projects and relying on the other person when you’re working full time, you have family and other obligations to get the work done. When one person was having a low moment, we were able to come together in the health policy track, the four of us in the cohort and encourage each other.

Zhenya Stein

Zhenya Stein, M.B.A.
School of Business

GW has been more than just a university to me—it's been a home, a workplace, and a hub of cherished memories. Being married to a fellow GW alum makes this place triple special. 

One of my standout moments was in the blended finance class with Professor Romi Bhatia through the Global & Experiential Education (G&EE) program. Learning how to catalyze funds from both public and private sectors to support global communities was eye-opening. Field visits to top financial institutions in the nation's capital and guest speakers from the U.S. Department of State were true "only-at-GW" experiences. Not only did I gain a wealth of knowledge and inspiration, but I also made lasting friendships. Friends who are there for both the grand ideas and the simple joys. There aren’t many days in an M.B.A. student's life that are carefree, but with like-minded friends, it’s possible—especially after hitting that ‘submit assignment’ button! 

Natalie Wagner

Natalie Wagner, Doctor of Physical Therapy (D.P.T.)
School of Medicine and Health Sciences

I'm from the Midwest, so it was quite an experience to get out in a big city, meet a ton of people and get out of my comfort zone. Our white coat ceremony in our first year was so amazing—my classmates and I had just made it through our first-year anatomy lab, which was insane, to say the least. Generous people donate their bodies to science, and then medical students and physical therapy students spend a whole semester in anatomy lab dissecting the body, getting to know every muscle, every nerve. It’s sometimes a scary experience, but it’s also really cool and an honor to have that opportunity.

Katya Wagstaff

Katya Wagstaff, J.D.

GW Law

One of my favorite experiences at GW Law was taking a media law class taught by Jon Decker, also a GW Law alumnus, who is a White House correspondent. Not only did he bring his journalistic expertise into our media law and First Amendment discussions, he brought us to his work! We attended a White House press briefing just days before a government shutdown was likely to begin. At this tense time, we observed the impact on media law in real time as journalists formulated questions for press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who responded calmly. This world-class experience was only a few blocks away from our classroom. Importantly, it wasn’t just a fun field trip—it enhanced my education and understanding of legal principles and doctrines in action.

Selamit Weimer

Selamawit Weimer, B.A. Africana Studies
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences (Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholar)

Most memorable moment was seeing the past president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, come speak on campus because I had learned about her in one of my classes. It was inspiring.

Taylor White Melanie Donjuan

Taylor White and Melanie Donjuan, B.S., biomedical engineering
School of Engineering and Applied Science

White: We met in one of our first electrical and computer engineering classes, and this last year we became roommates. We’re really, really close.

Donjuan: She would just laugh at everything that I said. I became very comfortable around her, and I feel like she can understand my background and who I am like no other person. As a first-generation student, I was coming in kind of by myself, so that was sometimes difficult to navigate.

White: Melanie has a very easygoing personality. She’s very friendly and just like she said, she understood a part of me that I don't think anybody else understood. From there, we’ve been inseparable.

Donjuan: We went to see Kerry Washington on her book tour, which was really special because we’d watched Scandal together before—we’re big fans! Obviously seeing Tony [Goldwyn] was exciting.

White: The cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin was another only-at-GW moment.