Members of the Class of 2023 Share What Was on Their Minds on Commencement Day

Graduates talked about the benefits of attending college in D.C., hands-on experiences in law and science labs, bonding with peers in the classroom and as student-athletes and more.

May 21, 2023

On the grounds on the Washington Monument Sunday, GW Today writers talked with members of the Class of 2023 about their time at the George Washington University. What sticks out? What or whom will they remember most?

They shared stories about exploring the nation’s capital, building relationships with caring faculty and meeting a broad array of people from around the world. One international student recounted meeting a former president of her native country, Peru, at GW. Here, in their own words, are some thoughts GW graduates shared. (Comments have been edited for clarity and length.)

Student on the National Mall

Nick Whims
B.P.S. information technology, College of Professional Studies

What I’ll remember most is just how many people have come here from so far away and seeing so many international students and students from across the country coming to D.C. for the first time. I grew up in Maryland, so D.C. has always been part of my life. But seeing that it’s such a destination for people wanting to learn more about politics and things like that. Even though it isn’t necessarily my field, it’s just so interesting.

Student on the National Mall

Gabriela Perez
B.A. communications, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences

Going to GW gave me the unique experience of getting to explore D.C. with some of my best friends. This last year, our senior year, I tried to make the most of being in the city. We made this whole schedule and planned for our last semester together. We visited all the monuments and museums and just had so many fun activities. It was very special, and I think that’s a unique GW experience. From my time at GW, I learned that nothing is promised and to make the most of the moment. I was a freshman when COVID hit, and a lot of things changed, and I think that really taught me to learn to enjoy the moment. That really forced me to make sure that I was making the most of my college experience. Even when I would be exhausted from exams, just remembering that that’s just a short period of time and things were going to pass. So I made the most of my time here.


Student on the National Mall

Ian Lam
J.D., GW Law

I was a student attorney with the Immigration Law Clinic that we have on campus. I represented a client who is actually a fellow student here at GW. I won him asylum from going back to Iran. He is gay, and back in Iran he would get persecuted for that. So that was the impactful thing I’ve done in law school, for sure.

Student on the National Mall

Estefania Limo Martinez
M.P.H. epidemiology, Milken Institute School of Public Health

I got a chance to meet a lot of people through a lot of events. I even met my former president from Peru, so that was a highlight. There’s a club at GW called GW TRAILS, and through it I got the chance to do activities like hiking, camping, cave diving—it’s called “spelunking.” It was very fun. I didn’t always know I was outdoorsy, but I have a bucket list since the pandemic—life is so short. So now I’m just exploring that, and I’ve had the chance to do other things, like jumping from an airplane. I’m also a GW ambassador, so I love sharing my stories with other students about the adventures that I’ve had.

Carly Craffen
M.S. business analytics and entrepreneurship, School of Business

During COVID, in my entrepreneurship class, I participated in Pitch George, where you pitch a business idea. I made it to round two. It was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. We almost won, which was cool. The prize was $1,000.

Commencement 2023

Debolina Saha
M.I.P.P., Elliott School of International Affairs

I’m a finance lawyer. I got married to someone here in the U.S., but we had a long-distance marriage—I was working in Hong Kong, and I didn’t want to give everything up that I had built there. Then COVID happened, and I didn’t see him for over a year—at that point I knew I wanted to come see him. So moving here, I wanted to do something different but I also wanted to leverage my skills as a lawyer. The M.I.P.P. builds on my skill sets as a professional, and on top of that, it gives me the knowledge that I use to navigate the field of international affairs. It opens up doors for me, like the American Foreign Service. I chose the Elliott School because immediately after I was admitted, the program director reached out and that personal touch and contact meant so much to me. I was sure at that point of making the right decision. And then, because of my network at the school, my second semester in I got an offer from the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank. So it worked out so well—I cannot scream out loud enough that this was the best decision.

In India I actually started a platform called the Internship Bank—it connects young girls coming from financially challenged backgrounds and lesser-known colleges in India with internships and women mentors. It’s actually really taken off, and now I have a bit of a following. I am always telling them about what the Elliott School offers. There is more you can do with a law degree than be a lawyer in the traditional sense.

Rachel Anstatt
M.A. international education, Graduate School of Education and Human Development

I really enjoyed being so close to the White House, and I had a couple classes a couple of blocks away. That just always felt surreal.

Donna Queen
M.S. systems engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science

I had already studied systems engineering years ago at another university, but things have changed and a lot of systems have become more complex. I work at the Department of Defense, so I’ll be able to use a lot of the knowledge gained in order to further my work. It wasn’t easy trying to finish this degree while having COVID three times, so I’m just excited to complete it. It’s never too late—I’m over 55. Always, always pursue education and knowledge.

Hannah Roche
B.A. theater, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

My favorite part of my GW experience is getting back into rowing with the team here. I transferred to GW from Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and I was really determined that I wasn’t going to row again. But the rowing team at GW was such an amazing experience. If anybody ever gets a chance to do college athletics, they should be doing it at GW because just the athletic scene here, it’s amazing. All of the other athletes are super nice. Having such great teammates that turn into family is an experience I can’t even describe. It’s such an invaluable experience that I think everyone should be able to have. At GW I learned it’s OK to let things run their course and to go with the flow.

Shauna Maciel
Ph.D. health sciences, School of Medicine and Health Sciences

I’ve really loved just the warm and friendly relationship that you have with the instructors. Everyone is so kind and friendly. No matter whether you’re on campus or online, they really just have a way of making you feel like you have a connection with the university, and that’s important. At GW, I’ve gotten to meet all kinds of people from different areas and all walks of life. Learning how to collaborate with them and work together has been an absolutely wonderful experience.

Jewel Beharry-Diaz
M.B.A. health administration, School of Business

I did a strategic business plan for the capstone project and was able to come up with a business idea for a direct-to-consumer line of business that I hope to present to my current CEO and senior leadership at a digital health care company involved in reversing type 2 diabetes and metabolic conditions. I’m proud of the connections I made, like the young lady whom I worked with on the project. We plan on attending the Black MBA events together so that we can continue to grow and network and hopefully take what we have learned to others.

Henry Castro
J.D., GW Law

[As production editor of GW Law Review], just getting involved with students and being a part of the process made seeing our ultimate product at the end feel all so worth it. The production piece was essentially reviewing all the members’ initial edits and then reviewing those edits. We were sort of like the first line of defense. Being a cog in the wheel still feels good when you see the end product of our production.

Harvi Shergill
B.S. biomedical engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Science

COVID was a shock at first—no one really knew how to adjust it and how it would affect us. I was home the back end of my freshman year, which I think my mom liked. But it was good to get back on campus the last couple of years to be in the lab and do some extra work. During finals season, I’d finished one of my exams and I was like, “I’m just going to go for a walk,” and I ended up right here at the monuments. It was one of those moments that really puts into perspective how close we are to the center of D.C. The people you meet here are people you’ll only meet here. Some of the professors here and the work they’ve done, it’s just incredible. And being able to work closely with them has been awesome.


Leslie Blash
M.P.H., Milken Institute School of Public Health

Getting a chance to do a practicum in equity and engagement, having a real-world experience at Planned Parenthood and taking everything I learned in the classroom, using it in real life and finding out that everything I learned is useful and helpful in the work setting.

Rikki Grosskopf
B.A. international affairs, Elliott School of International Affairs

I was a nontraditional student. I joined the Army right out of high school, and while I was in the Army I learned Persian. I was there for a little over four years, and I waited for two more years after I got out to go back to school, because I had gotten custody of my younger sibling and was concentrating on that. So when I first started at GW, I was focused on continuing to learn Persian and on Iran specifically. I ended up learning a lot more about the region in general, and a lot more about how diplomacy works in the U.S., and that opened some unexpected paths for me. Now I’m interested in international law. I thought I had all of my steps laid out in a row like a bunch of Legos, and then I realized there were a lot more different colored Legos in the box.

Danielle Hess
M.A. exhibition design, Corcoran School of the Arts and Design

I really loved the work I got to do through my major. I think being able to complete a practical, hands-on project was really rewarding. It was great to be able to do the exhibition design process from start to finish. The biggest lesson I learned from my time at GW was the importance of the collaborative process and how important it is to rely on those around us to support our work. It’s great to know how to work with others and be a good team member.

Karen Ruiz
Clinical Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, School of Medicine and Health Sciences

I am a student that pursued online education. So despite the challenges of being an online student, my professors at GW have just been incredible, absolutely incredible, and I’m so grateful for that. It’s really made the whole experience worthwhile. There’s been so many amazing people here that I’ve gotten to learn from. At GW, I really learned communication with peers and faculty is so valuable. As an introverted person, the people at GW have just helped me come out of my shell a lot. So to be able to communicate with like-minded people and just learn the most you can from them has been great.

Guadalupe Vega
M.A. human resource management, School of Business

The most wonderful experience was collaborating with other students in the human resources realm. It was like a brand-new day every single time and really exciting working with different types of people from different cultures. It helped with cultural awareness and diversity with different political views, from different countries which broadened the scope of ideas and in ways people don’t always think about. I’m a U.S. Army captain and will be returning to base after a bit of a vacation.

Emma Edwards
M.P.H., Milken Institute School of Public Health

All of my professors were really wonderful at GW and just had a variety of different life and professional experiences they could draw on and talk about during class. I really appreciated being able to learn from each of them. My woman’s health professor, Dr. Jameta Barlow, was one of my favorite professors. During the program, we learned about Black maternal health and health disparities that exist in pregnancy and their impact on pregnancy outcomes and inspired me to write my thesis on the use of telehealth to improve health outcomes in the post-partum period.

Thy Bey
Ed.D., Graduate School of Education and Human Development

My most memorable part of GW was the camaraderie with other students, the challenges we were provided to enhance and expand our critical thinking.

Katie Coolidge, B.S., finance, and Cooper Spezzano, B.A., marketing, School of Business

Coolidge: We went through it together from freshman year on. We were roommates freshman year and both had similar tastes and interest in fashion, so we bonded over that. It solidified our friendship.

Spezzano: When we went home during COVID, it was hard to have a friendship as roommates, but we stayed in touch. Making that connection through distance really meant that she was a true friend and then coming back to school for the last year was just amazing. Just made it even more memorable to be with her.

Hodan Gudal
M.P.H., epidemiology, Milken Institute School of Public Health

The best part of my experience at GW is meeting new people and making great connections with other students, and the education. I admired all the perspectives and backgrounds that were incorporated into the education. I really love that at the School of Public Health we take into consideration people of different races and religions and even tailor our public health interventions to include different languages, so that inclusivity is something that is so important. I love that GW uses that. I was part of the online program, so I met students from all over the world, from South Africa, Australia, China. It was really a global program.