A Bicentennial Bash
A Bicentennial Bash
A celebratory close and a long-awaited Commencement ceremony highlighted a weekend honoring the university’s past, present and future.
// By Nick Erickson
A spectacular light display filling up the sky signified to all of Washington, D.C., that George Washington University’s Foggy Bottom campus was the place to be on Saturday, Oct. 2.
The Bicentennial Bash, which closed off Kogan Plaza for an evening filled with food, games and even an acrobat performance, was the exclamation point of a weekend celebrating 200 years of only-at-GW moments.
It was a marquee event of the “Our Moment, Our Momentum: GW Centuries Celebration Weekend,” which marked the culmination of the university’s eight-month bicentennial celebration. Bringing together alumni, current students, parents, faculty, staff and friends, the Bicentennial Bash lit up the urban campus and sparkled with images from the university’s past and present projected on the outside of Gelman Library. Later, the crowd was dazzled by a performance of acrobats on harnesses descending the library walls.
“This is a remarkable community, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of it,” GW President Thomas LeBlanc said. “Not even a pandemic can keep us from coming together to celebrate this special bicentennial.”
The Saturday evening celebration highlighted a weekend of momentous events. On Friday night, GW held a reception and dinner to honor its Monumental Alumni. The group comprises 73 alumni who have made their mark on the greater world by living GW’s mission of engaging as global citizens in their respective fields. Set up in a tent covering University Yard, the special event brought together members of the GW community to express their pride in their institution.
“GW alumni are game changers, laser focused on making a difference in their field, business or profession,” said GW Alumni Association President Christine Brown-Quinn, MBA ’92. “They are individuals who are committed to using their education at GW for a platform for making the better world a better place.”
One of Friday night’s more powerful moments was when more than 40 GW students, all clad in navy blue sweaters bearing the university’s logo, circled the Monumental Alumni and GW benefactors during the reception at University Yard. Representing all 10 schools, the students held up a glass in a toast to thank those in attendance for both their inspirational example and continued support. Moments earlier, Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, JD ’82, announced a new scholarship initiative to help make a GW education more accessible, especially for students who are facing financial challenges. (Learn more about the scholarship initiative.)
“Those of us here tonight are representative of the entire GW community, thousands of aspiring changemakers who are diverse in culture, backgrounds and disciplines,” said senior business administration major Jungwoo Yang, who led the student toast. “You have helped GW grow—so we can grow.”
The next morning, the GW community gathered on the National Mall for a long-awaited in-person Commencement ceremony for the classes of 2020 and 2021. GW is the only university that holds its graduation ceremony on the National Mall, but the tradition was interrupted when the COVID-19 pandemic forced ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 to be moved online. Graduates and their families heard Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a Monumental Alumna who attended GW from 1966 to 1968, give an impassioned address. She urged them to make their presence felt in the political arena and to steadfastly advocate for their beliefs.
“Get in the fight,” Warren said. “Get in the fight for opportunity, for race, gender, sexual identity, for the opportunity to survive in a world not suffocated by climate change or bled to death by wars.”
A Year of GW Moments
Throughout the year, bicentennial events traced GW’s growth from humble origins to a comprehensive, global research university in the heart of the nation’s capital. In telling GW’s story throughout its 200-year history and into its future, celebrations followed the university’s journey from the first class of 20 students and six faculty members to a home for 27,000 students, thousands of faculty and staff, and more than 310,000 alumni worldwide.
“The bicentennial is a celebration of our successes and accomplishments; of teaching, research and community building,” said Donna Arbide, vice president for development and alumni relations. “More than anything, the bicentennial is about the people who have made GW great.”
Beginning with the virtual opening ceremony on Feb. 9—the anniversary of the 1821 congressional act that established the university—a series of bicentennial events highlighted GW’s past and present while looking ahead to its future. Many charted the legacy of the university through faculty, alumni and student accomplishments. Others involved honoring alumni leaders, innovators and artists over the centuries. At virtual events, global leaders recounted how their GW experiences helped them approach some of the world’s biggest challenges, business entrepreneurs detailed the role GW played in their professional journeys, and notable scientists talked about how their studies led them to the forefront of space exploration.
A Weekend to Remember
The celebrations continued throughout the October weekend as the bicentennial anniversary drew to a close. Alumni took trips down memory lane with fully booked tours of GW residence halls. In the afternoon, a University Yard audience watched a screening of the bicentennial short film series, a collection of documentaries spotlighting the GW experience. They included a look at GW’s role in studying the public health impacts of Hurricane Maria and a portrait of students navigating the 2020 elections and the COVID-19 pandemic. Other films explored how student innovators kept the university’s New Venture Competition alive during the pandemic and paid tribute to the iconic Thurston Hall and Leo’s GW Delicatessen—a.k.a. “Deli.”
On Saturday, Oct. 2, Bicentennial Bash attendees lined up near Kogan Plaza an hour before the event began. Some used that opportunity to load up on GW gear at the campus store. With buff and blue shirts dotting Kogan and day turning to night, the Bicentennial Bash was a highlight to a weekend that reminded all who attended what makes GW special.
As LeBlanc told the crowd: “We’ve got a lot to celebrate.”
Bash Acrobats: Harrison Jones | Warren: Joy Asico | All other photos: William Atkins