By Nick Erickson
Twin siblings Adrienne and Nathan Williams never would have guessed a pit stop on the way to their home in Syracuse, N.Y., from a family wedding in North Carolina would be so consequential, but they are forever grateful for the detour in the route.
High-school students at the time, their family veered slightly east off Interstate 495 to Washington, D.C., where they toured the George Washington University together. Adrienne and Nathan shared everything in life up to that point, and they knew early on during their tour that they’d also be sharing the same university as they fell in love with the campus.
Nearly a decade-and-a-half later, it remains an all-time great pit stop, as the two class of 2010 graduates return whenever they can to relive some of the best, most formative years of their lives while sharing their GW pride with fellow alumni and current students.
They came together with the GW community over Alumni & Families Weekend Friday through Sunday to celebrate what makes the world-class institution located in the heart of the nation’s capital special by reconnecting, checking out new and improved upgrades to the university, and participating in campus events and activities.
“We didn’t really know it at the time, but this university has meant the world to us,” said Nathan Williams, B.S. ’10, an economics graduate from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences who now works as a financial specialist at TIAA in D.C. He and Adrienne, B.A. ’10, attended the All-Alumni Party Friday night at Potomac Square.
Despite the rainy conditions, events were well-attended throughout the weekend. Potomac Square and the Grand Ballroom of the University Student Center, which housed the Weekend Welcome Gathering for parents and students, were some of the liveliest venues in the early parts of Friday. Both events had deejays, flashing lights and laughter echoing off the walls. Speaking of laughter, Saturday Night Live alumna, unofficial Olympic commentator and three-time Emmy nominee Leslie Jones performed the annual Fall Comedy Show Friday night at the Charles E. Smith Center. Earlier in the evening, a Multicultural Alumni Reception honored the legacy of Michael Tapscott, the recently retired director of the Multicultural Student Services Center (MSSC), a post he held since 2003.
Those who preferred a more laid-back setting had plenty of options, too. The Vern Harvest at the Mount Vernon Campus on Saturday offered plenty of fall activities, including pumpkin paintings, caricature drawings and apple cider donut samples. The newly renovated Thurston Hall was also bustling with people exploring its modernized community spaces and amenities during an open house. Weekend attendees could also see the GW Documentary Film Series, which included the premier of four short films: Gelman Library and Favorite Study Spots, GW’s Global Women’s Institute, DC as a Classroom and Commencement on the National Mall. Two additional films, To Bigotry, No Sanction, and GW Open Doors, were also shown. There were also five-, 10-, and 20-year reunions held on Saturday night for the Classes of 2017, 2012 and 2002.
On Sunday, a Buff and Blue Brunch and a timely and relevant panel discussion on the Supreme Court nomination process featuring prominent GW alumni in law, media and government relations wrapped up the weekend on Sunday. The panel, called Political Discourse and hosted by GW Law and the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM), featured GW Law Dean Dayna Bowen Matthew, former Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), alumna Ariane de Vogue, B.A. ’89, GSPM Fellow Dana Gresham and GW Law alumnus Jonathan Bond, J.D. ‘08.
President Mark Wrighton, who was present at many events, said at the All-Alumni Party on Friday night that the weekend offered a glimpse of all the things happening on campus while simultaneously celebrating the legacy of GW alumni.
“This is a great institution with wonderful creative dedicated people who are making a difference in the world,” Wrighton said.
Wrighton also shared the university’s commitment to enhancing the student experience, pointing to the momentum of the Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships and the continuation of Only at GW experiences.
Alumni visiting for the weekend looked back at their own only-at-GW opportunities, many of which were centered around civic engagement and public service while living at the epicenter of democracy.
Former roommates Lynette le Mat, B.A. ’72, and Peggy Sulvetta, B.A. ’72, who were celebrating their 50-year reunion, remember how their time at GW coincided with the Vietnam War. Thurston Hall, which is where they lived, is now a state-of-the-art residence facility. But when they were undergraduates, it housed anti-war demonstrators who descended upon D.C. to express their opposition to military actions in Southeast Asia.
A half century earlier, they were two first-year students from Connecticut randomly paired together, and on Saturday, toured their old stomping grounds, reminiscing in Thurston Hall’s courtyard terrace.
“We haven’t seen each other in a long time, but through the years we’ve kept it in touch,” said le Mat. “The friendship started at GW.”
The Williams twins were also enamored by the city while at GW, and one of their favorite memories was visiting the lit-up Lincoln Memorial with friends the night before Commencement on the National Mall to take in the sights.
“That resonated with me, and it still resonates with me,” Nathan said. “You’re in the capital city of the United States of America. Whether it’s going to inauguration, or this week watching Lizzo play James Madison’s flute."
“Or protesting in the street,” Adrienne, an international affairs graduate who now works at the nonprofit Student Achievement Partner, interjected.
“Exactly!” Nathan, a men’s basketball season ticket holder, responded. “No matter what it is, this is where things are happening, and I just feel so proud to be here.”
While some gathered to celebrate the culmination of their GW journeys, others are just beginning theirs and showed off their new experiences and D.C. settings to their families visiting over the weekend.
Even though Albert Schenn and Nancy Shiue moved their daughter, first-year student Rachel Moon, to campus from the Dallas area just over a month ago, a lot has already changed as Moon just recently joined the GW Hatchet student newspaper.
“The best part of being a parent is just watching her integrate into the local community,” Schenn said while attending the Vern Harvest with his wife and daughter.
While everyone comes from a different starting point, GW is the destination that binds together more than 200 years of life experiences and professional development and achievement, all of which were celebrated over Alumni & Families Weekend.
As Adrienne Williams said: “It is a place that just feels like home.”