Graduates and their families celebrated achievements and the majesty of the National Mall.
By Briahnna Brown and Ruth Steinhardt
Standing on the National Mall Sunday morning, thousands of George Washington University students had plenty of different ways to describe how they felt: Excited. Scared. Proud. Tired. Sweaty.
Parag Shukla, beaming uncontrollably in the sunlight, had a list of words of his own.
“I feel amazing,” said Mr. Shukla, who graduated with his bachelor’s in psychology from the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. “I’m grateful. Thankful. Blessed.”
Mr. Shukla was not the first person in his family to graduate from GW. His sister, now an OB-GYN, was an economics and dance major, and his brother and sister-in-law are a radiologist and a cardiologist, respectively, at the GW Hospital. (Neither of Mr. Shukla’s siblings, unfortunately, could make it to the ceremony—being medical professionals, both were on call.) But though the spectacle of a GW Commencement wasn’t new to Mr. Shukla, it still thrilled him.
“This is really an only-at-GW experience,” he said.
Parag Shukla, B.A. '18. (Rick Reinhard/GW Today)
About 26,000 people packed the National Mall near the Smithsonian Castle for the university-wide Commencement. Though patterned umbrellas sprouted in the crowd through a few light showers early on as the soon-to-be-graduates, their families and friends began assembling on the Mall, the clouds parted for good almost as soon as the long procession of robe-clad graduates began.
Bright-eyed graduates, with their colorful regalia and heavily and uniquely decorated graduation caps, screamed in excitement when meeting up with their friends and classmates as they lined up in preparation for the procession.
Anna Tapen and Tyler Famiglietti, who both earned a bachelor of accountancy from the School of Business, said they were happy to cap off their undergraduate experience as they prepare to start the master of accountancy program at GW.
Tyler Famiglietti, B.A. '18, and Ana Tapen, B.A. '18. (Sydney Elle Gray/GW Today)
Ms. Tapen, who played women’s soccer at the university, said she feels she has grown in her three years at GW, even though she is graduating early.
“I feel like in the past three years I've been able to change so much,” Ms. Tapen said. “To look at how much has changed, and how much I’ve changed and been able to narrow my career path and find what I want to do, in the classroom, out of the classroom and kind of develop new friendships has been such a great experience.”
Mr. Famiglietti said he’ll miss running on the National Mall every day when he eventually leaves D.C., and even though the experience is bittersweet, he is grateful for the professional development GW provided.
“Coming in, I hadn't had really any experience, and the internships available—GW they always say is No. 1 in internships, I certainly do believe in that,” Mr. Famiglietti said. “There's a wealth of opportunities right around the corner here, so it's definitely made the college experience very unique.”
Physician Ravi Venkataraman got his M.H.A. from the Milken Institute School of Public Health as part of a career transition from patient care to healthcare administration. His whole family came to celebrate his commencement, including his elderly parents and a daughter who flew in from San Francisco. (Rick Reinhard/GW Today)
Emily Williams had decorated her mortarboard with a simple message: “I Did It So My Dog Could Have a Better Life.” A native of Knoxville, Tenn., she got her master’s degree in publishing through the College of Professional Studies’ online program and met many of her classmates for the first time in the flesh this weekend.
Emily Williams, M.A. '18. (Rick Reinhard/GW Today)
“I’m super nervous,” she admitted. “I’m glad I don’t have to actually walk the stage and potentially fall down. But it’s just a big moment, and it’s something I’m going to remember for the rest of my life.”
William and Edwina Middleton were caught up in a very minor wardrobe crisis: trying to get an enamel pin on their daughter Amber’s robes to stay upright. She received her Ed.S., an education specialist degree, from the Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
“We’re very proud of her,” the older Ms. Middleton said. “And I’m glad it’s not raining.”
Amber Middleton, Ed.S. '18. (Rick Reinhard)
Courtney Krawice, who earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the School of Engineering and Applied Science, said she was excited to have finished her undergraduate years and was interested in hearing GW President Thomas LeBlanc’s first Commencement speech. Her years at GW were filled with making new friends and taking a summertime SEASSPAN engineering trip to West Virginia each year.
Courtney Krawice, B.S. '18. (Sydney Elle Gray/GW Today)
“Every time I hear ‘Country Roads,’ it's always going to remind me of that,” Ms. Krawice said.
Rachel Van Maasdam’s 2-year-old daughter, Avery, was as excited as any graduate as she scampered across the damp grass. An active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force who already received her J.D. from the University of Iowa, Ms. Van Maasdam got her L.L.M. from the GW Law School because she is interested in transitioning into the field of government procurement.
“It feels amazing to be done,” Ms. Van Maasdam said. “This is a really cool opportunity that we get—to take advantage of living in the nation’s capital and graduating here.”
Rachel Van Maasdam (right) with her husband, Matt, and daughter Avery. (Rick Reinhard/GW Today)
Before the ceremony, families gathered on the National Mall, some as early as 7:30 a.m., to find good seats and get that perfect photo of their graduate before parting ways.
Valerie McConico came up from Georgia to watch her daughter, Cameron Bakkar, graduate. Ms. McConico homeschooled her daughter during her childhood, and she later attended an international high school. Now Ms. Bakkar is a fluent Arabic speaker with a degree in international studies, focusing on conflict resolution.
“It feels very, very surreal to be here, coming from a small town outside Atlanta,” Ms. McConico said. “I’m very proud of her.”
Valerie McConico. (Rick Reinhard/GW Today)
Nory Rivera and Rocio Gonzalez, the mother and sister of GW graduate Maria Celeste Gonzalez, came from Puerto Rico to support Ms. Gonzalez who earned a degree from the GW Law School. They said they were emotional about her achievements.
"We are so happy that she entered GW for her J.D.,” Ms. Rivera said. “We are so proud of her, and we expect all the best for her."
Alex Schrank, B.A. '18, will return to his home state of Ohio next year to teach. "It's exciting, but scary—ending one chapter of my life and starting a new one." (Rick Reinhard/GW Today)
Carlie Headapohl and Will Headapohl, who came from San Diego, Calif. to support their son Hunter Headapohl who earned a B.A. in international affairs from the Elliott School of International Affairs, said that they were happy to have one son finished with school, as their other son is still in college. Mr. Headapohl said that he felt relieved after his son’s time at GW.
Ms. Headapohl added that she was excited about her son’s accomplishments during his GW experience.
“He was very impressed with the quality of the professors and the classes that he took,” Ms. Headapohl said. “He's really gotten a lot out of his experience at George Washington.”