Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Smith Center slated for backup ceremony

Prior to 1995, GW had no contingency plan for Commencement if the weather forced the ceremony off the Ellipse.

“No one gave much thought to it,” said Director of University Special Events Lynn Shipway. “Our backup plan was to cancel Commencement.”

So when a lightening storm descended on the District three years ago, the University had to cancel Commencement. The event was a national embarrassment and GW was left with more than 20,000 angry graduates and guests. Two weeks later, GW hosted a sparsely-attended ceremony in the Smith Center.

Every year since the canceled ceremony, GW has arranged a backup plan in case of inclement weather.

The 1998 backup plan is similar to the one used in 1996 and 1997. In case of threatening weather conditions, all graduates, faculty members and platform participants will head to the Smith Center for an indoor ceremony.

Because the Smith Center cannot seat all the graduates and their families, each graduate will receive two tickets that allow guests to watch the ceremony on closed-circuit television at sites on campus like J Street and the Marvin Center theater.

“The biggest draw back is families can’t be there in person at the Smith Center ceremony,” Shipway said. “But it gives students some closure on their degrees.”

Commencement could be moved off the Ellipse for a number of reasons, including an electrical storm or Secret Service security concerns, said Mike Freedman, GW director of public affairs.

“We don’t have control over the Ellipse. We want to give (Commencement on the Ellipse) every conceivable shot,” Freedman said. “But first and foremost we must be concerned with the safety of the people on the Ellipse.”

Commencement will be on the Ellipse even if it rains, but the ceremony will be moved indoors if severe weather hits the area, Shipway said.

Freedman said the University will make a decision as early in the day as possible to allow GW time to institute the backup plan.

“We don’t want to cancel graduation on the Ellipse the night before and have it be sunny and clear skies in the morning,” Freedman said. “You don’t go to a backup plan lightly. Everyone has to be in agreement that it is the best decision to make.”

If thunderstorms hit the area frequently in the days before the event, the decision will be made early in the morning or the night before, he said.

Any changes in the Commencement plan will be broadcast on WTOP (1500 AM, 107.7 FM) and WMAL (630 AM). Students can also call 994-5050 for updated Commencement information.

Earlier this year, the University’s Commencement Committee, which was created to evaluate Commencement weekend events, considered eliminating a backup plan to cut costs. The backup plan cost $19,934 in fiscal year 1997, according to Committee figures.

But the committee decided to keep the plan to prevent a repeat of the situation the University faced in 1995.

“Students and families were very upset in 1995, and so were we. We put a lot of time into planning it,” Shipway said. “We wanted to salvage a ceremony if we couldn’t use the Ellipse.”

The University started holding individual school ceremonies on Saturday and Sunday after the 1995 cancellation, Freedman said.

“We all pray we won’t have to use (the backup plan) but we can’t control the weather,” Shipway said.

See The Washington Post’s Web site.

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