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The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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WEB EXTRA: Students volunteer at Cherry Blossom Festival

While some students are content simply to visit the National Cherry Blossom Festival once a year, others have contributed to D.C.’s largest annual tourist event by participating in events or volunteering time.

The festival, which runs until April 15, kicked off March 31 with Opening Ceremony, which included speeches by D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty and Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Kato. The two-week festival is the single-largest annual event in the District, drawing an estimated 1.7 million visitors, most who pass through the Foggy Bottom Metro station on their way to the Mall.

Students have already participated in the National Cherry Blossom Festival Marathon March 31 and other student athletes, such as the men’s and women’s crew teams, compete in tournaments celebrating the festival.

Junior Kathleen Kuever volunteered to be a goodwill ambassador for the National Cherry Blossom Festival this year after hearing about the position through the University’s Japanese department. The position requires acting as a translator, VIP escort and friendly face for the entire two-week festival.

Kuever said ambassadors are chosen based on their knowledge of Japanese culture and an interest in strengthening the Japanese-American cultural exchange. Access to the Japanese embassy and organizations in the city are big perks of receiving the position, she added.

“I do feel like I represent the college and I try to be a good representative for GW,” she said.

The best part of the festival, Kuever said, is the Sakura Matsuri Street Festival April 14. Four blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue are closed to traffic for martial arts and musical performances accompanied by an outdoor marketplace and Japanese beer gardens. Kuever said she is proud to be continuing GW’s 11-year history of providing goodwill ambassadors and advised students to attend at least one event during the coming weeks.

“I would definitely recommend everyone going down and seeing some events or even just going down and seeing the trees,” Kuever said. “(Washington) is one of the only cities outside of Japan where you can see the trees like this.”

Theresa Belpulsi, a member of the National Cherry Blossom Festival Board of Directors, praised the work of student volunteers like Kuever. She said the large supply of colleges in the area contribute greatly to the volunteer base for the two-week stream of events.

“We’re very fortunate to have our major universities involved in the city festivals,” Belpulsi said. “It shows that they get involved with the city rather than just staying in their little corridor with the school.”

Because of GW’s proximity to the Tidal Basin and Foggy Bottom Metro, the increase in tourists walking through campus has become very noticeable for some students.

“It just takes longer to walk to classes,” said freshman Gaby Dorantes “If you’re going to the Elliott School – it’s insane.”

Dorantes said she visited the monuments Saturday and experienced firsthand the increased volume of tourists on the National Mall.

“There were so many people all over the place and they just don’t know how to cross the street,” Dorantes said.

Senior Webster Cash said he too has noticed the increased number of pedestrians over the weekend on the Mall, where he occasionally runs.

“(The tourists) are bothersome, but it’s tough for me to run down there anyway because the branches are so low,” said Cash, who is 6 foot 5 .

The National Park Service maintains signs around the Tidal Basin warning visitors of the dangerously low branches, which can be less than five feet from the sidewalk.

The Cherry Blossom Festival is also a peak period for tree pollen, with Washington as one of the worst areas pollen allergies, according to the National Weather Service.

Cash said allergies aside, the festival is a good opportunity to see lots of beautiful people and natural beauty. He added that GW could have a larger role in getting students to engage in the characteristically D.C. event.

“I do think (the University) should have better outreach to get students out,” he said. “I think we should have recruiting or something.”

University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg urged students to experience the Cherry Blossom Festival and described this year’s cherry trees as particularly impressive.

“It’s wonderful to take pictures with your boyfriend or girlfriend by the way, it makes for a wonderful backdrop,” Trachtenberg said. “GW kids ought to take full advantage of everything that goes in the city of this sort; . In my point of view the GW campus extends around the city.”

The National Park Service conducts tests every year to determine the Peak Bloom period, which is estimated to fall April 3 to April 5 this year. A full schedule of events can be found online at

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