Thousands Return to Campus for Alumni Weekend

Janelle Monáe concert, achievement awards, Athletics Hall of Fame class announcement highlight reunion celebrations at GW.

September 28, 2015

Alumni Weekend

More than 2,000 graduates returned to campus to celebrate Alumni Weekend 2015. (Dave Scavone/For GW Today)

By James Irwin

Christyl Johnson did not know she was being honored by her alma mater until late this summer, when she received a phone call from David Dolling, the dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

“He asked what I was doing September 24,” she said. “And I said I wasn’t sure—why? And he said they were going to be honoring me.

“I was really shocked.”

Dr. Johnson, Ph.D. ’12, NASA Goddard’s deputy director for technology and research, was one of five graduates recognized Thursday for career achievement at the 79th annual Alumni Achievement Awards. The ceremony, recognizing GW graduates who have distinguished themselves in their professional and personal lives, began a four-day, spirited Alumni Weekend in Foggy Bottom, as the university and George Washington Alumni Association welcomed more than 2,000 graduates back to campus.


GW Announces HOF Inductees

GW Athletics announced its 2016 Hall of Fame induction class on Saturday. Eight individuals and the 1927 women’s rifle team will be honored during Homecoming Weekend at a Feb. 20 ceremony and the Feb. 21 men’s basketball game vs. La Salle University.

“This is our biggest and one of our most outstanding classes ever, with representation from many different eras of excellence for GW student-athletes and teams,” Director of Athletics Patrick Nero said. “This class will serve as another benchmark for what GW Athletic Hall of Famers should be and will inspire our current student-athletes to achieve at the highest levels.”

The inductees:

  • 1927 women’s rifle team
  • Corky Devlin (men's basketball, 1952-55)
  • Matt Hane (men's tennis, 2001-04)
  • Debbie Hemery (women's basketball, 1992-95)
  • Sarah Hokom (volleyball, 2000-03)
  • Laura Hostetler (lacrosse, 2004-06)
  • Ugo Oha (women's basketball, 2001-04)
  • Dirkk Surles (men's basketball, 1989-93)
  • David Zenk (men's swimming, men's water polo, 2006-09)

“I always find this event very inspiring,” GW Alumni Association President Jeremy Gosbee said. “It’s amazing to me the folks we graduate from GW, not just the professionalism and the caliber of those alumni, but the fact they come from so many diverse backgrounds. And the awards are a great event to kick off Alumni Weekend.”

Events throughout Foggy Bottom

Events and programs—more than 60 of them—provided a setting to strengthen ties among GW graduates, said Mr. Gosbee, B.A. '98, M.B.A. '02. Class reunions, a student-alumni networking reception, an afternoon food tasting and a Saturday night concert highlighted a weekend of social activities.

The university hosted hundreds of guests Saturday afternoon at the annual “Taste of GW” event featuring 16 restaurants and catering businesses owned by alumni. Reunion events were held Saturday evening in advance of the annual Alumni Weekend Concert, featuring six-time Grammy Award nominee Janelle Monáe.

Milestone reunions included the 150th anniversary of the GW Law School and a VALOR reunion for military-affiliated GW alumni attended by Vice Admiral (Ret.) Mel Williams, GW’s associate provost for military and veterans affairs; Rear Admiral Fernandez Ponds, M.S. ’03; and B.J. Penn, M.S. ’80, emeritus trustee and chair of Making History: The Campaign for GW.

The annual—and always popular—political brunch, hosted by the Graduate School of Political Management, featured a panel discussion on interactions between journalists and the White House. The panel included CBS News Senior White House Correspondent Major Garrett (a former School of Media and Public Affairs fellow); Joe Lockhart, former senior adviser and press secretary to President Bill Clinton; and Tony Fratto, former deputy press secretary and communications director to President George W. Bush.

On the Mount Vernon Campus, alumna Jane Cocke Black, MVC ’65, and emeritus professor Otis L. Graham, who served on the faculty of Mount Vernon College from 1962-65, were presented with the Elizabeth J. Somers Leadership Award recognizing individuals who value and promote education.

More than 270,000 people have graduated from GW. The weekend events reflected the diversity of the audience.

“We work all around the year to try and connect alumni to each other and the university, and often you can’t see that happening in front of you because it’s happening remotely or over the Internet,” Mr. Gosbee said. “To have folks on campus and feel that excitement is always thrilling to me.


Alumni pose with George during one of more than 60 events held throughout the weekend on campus. (Amanda Lomax/For GW Today)

Fundraising milestones and a 50th reunion celebration

It was a particularly busy weekend for George Washington President Steven Knapp, who attended a half-dozen events, including the celebration kicking off the law school anniversary and the Janelle Monáe concert. Dr. Knapp also met with the GW Alumni Association Board of Directors and participated in professor installation ceremonies at the School of Business and School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

At the alumni achievement awards, he announced that Making History, the university’s $1 billion philanthropic campaign, has raised more than $800 million. The campaign, which began with a quiet phase in July 2011, launched publicly in June 2014.

“With your help and support, you are truly helping us make history, and not only in the ways you are contributing financially,” Dr. Knapp said, “but also through all the ways you engage with our students and welcome graduates to their new professions or new cities.”

His was just the first piece of philanthropy news during the weekend. The Class of 1965 won an alumni fundraising challenge among 11 classes celebrating milestone reunions. By having the highest alumni participation, the Class of 1965 unlocked a $25,000 challenge gift from an alumni reunion donor to GW.

Some members of that class were back on campus this weekend for the first time in decades. For others, it was a quick and familiar trip into the city. Among the latter: Nancy Broyhill, B.A. ’65, an emerita trustee of the university and member of the Class of 1965 50th reunion committee.

“I think all universities need [philanthropic] support, and I think the people that give are the people that have the best experiences at the university and can look back and realize the things they learned have helped them in their lives,” she said. “You always think of your own class as being special, and GW really was a special place.”

Ms. Broyhill, who graduated from the School of Government, Business and International Affairs (now the Elliott School of International Affairs), fondly recalled her days as a student in Foggy Bottom.

“A lot of memories,” she said. “I can remember going to Lisner Auditorium—this was before the Kennedy Center was built. We got student rates, if not free, to go to those events. I remember seeing dance performances, a lot of folk singing.”

She paused for a second, unpacking memories.

“Judy Collins!” she said, and her eyes lit up. “I remember seeing her.”