One-of-a Kind 2020 Virtual Commencement Celebration

Toni Marsh wearing commencement gown and hat with tassel and part of College of Professional studies logo on a blue wall behind
Toni Marsh, J.D., College Marshal and program director for paralegal studies.
June 09, 2020

This was definitely a one-of-a-kind Commencement. While our 2020 Virtual Commencement Celebration took on a new format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the pride and joy we feel towards our newest graduates from programs in the College of Professional Studies (CPS) and the Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) is as strong as ever.

Commencement attendees and their loved ones gathered around their devices on May 16 in time for the 7:30 p.m. virtual Commencement website unveiling. The ceremony was an opportunity to bring together graduates, their families and the broader GW community at the same time to recognize the day.

The Celebration kicked off with an inspirational message from Toni Marsh, J.D., program director for the paralegal studies program, serving as College Marshal.

“You know a Commencement isn’t flowers and balloons and bands and processing down an aisle to thunderous applause. Those things glam up a Commencement, but they’re not the Commencement. A Commencement is a celebration of achievement and commitment and excellence. It is a time to celebrate ourselves and our loved ones for all we’ve accomplished together,” said Marsh.

Her introduction set the stage and explained how to navigate the Virtual Celebration website. Attendees accessed recorded components of the traditional ceremony at their own pace. The ceremony included remarks from our Dean, our Commencement and student speakers, as well as the presentation of awards, roll call of graduates by program, and a charge to the graduates.

CPS Dean’s Remarks

Christopher J. Deering, Interim Dean, CPS.


“Graduates, please accept our heartiest congratulations on your achievements. We are very proud to call you GW College of Professional Studies alumni. Raise High!,” said Christopher J. Deering, Interim CPS Dean. He praised the students for their long hours and hard work it took to complete their degrees and thanked the faculty and staff who worked long and hard to support them.

Dr. Deering said it has been “another great year for the College, current circumstances notwithstanding,” and provided six examples to illustrate his point:

  1. A study co-authored by our Casey Burgat, Legislative Affairs PD, reveals that GW produces more congressional staffers with graduate degrees, most of whom are from GSPM, than any other school in the country.
  2. The Planning Accreditation Board of the United States fully accredited our Sustainable Urban Planning program, elevating it into the top ranks of planning programs throughout the country.
  3. CPS Administrative Associate Yesenia Grajeda Yepez was awarded a Knapp Fellowship for creative public service for her project entitled “Familia United.”
  4. Our Homeland Security master’s program was once again ranked number one for overall quality and number three for quality and value among online master’s degree programs nationally.
  5. One of our recent alums, Margarita Derelanko, from the Healthcare Corporate Compliance Graduate Certificate Program, was named a 2019 “30 Under 30 Trendsetter in Healthcare” by SNJ Millennials for her outstanding service to the community.
  6. For the fourth year in a row, a CPS student, Gabrielle McCracken of Homeland Security, earned a semifinalist spot in GW’s New Venture Competition.


Distinguished Speaker’s Remarks

Albert R. Wynn, Distinguished Commencement Speaker.


“None of us deserve this [cancelled graduation, other changes due to COVID-19], but you know what? That’s thinking from the old world we left behind in March 2020. Today there is only what is; adapting, being creative and resourceful, using common sense and surviving,” said The Honorable Albert R. Wynn, our distinguished speaker and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Maryland’s 4th Congressional District.

He discussed three concepts to guide the graduates as they move into the next phase of their lives.  

  1. Kindness – Be mindful of the needs of other. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
  2. Cooperation – Cooperation is the counterpoint to polarization. It does not require unanimity of thought, but respect and a willingness to submerge individual interest to work together for the common good.
  3. Compromise – Don’t think of it as a sellout. It is fundamental to solving problems whether in a family, community or Congress. Each side with competing views and strongly held values must get some of what they want. That is the true art of politics.

“Graduates of 2020, as you go out into this new world, I hope you will face challenges with kindness for others, a spirit of cooperation to advance the common good, and a willingness to compromise in order to make real progress. Be the Vanguard for societal evolution and a new cultural ethos. Make the world AP, after the pandemic, a better place for human kind,” he said as his final advice to the graduates.


Student Speaker’s Remarks

Heather Salib, Student Commencement Speaker & Paralegal Studies Class of 2020.


“Refuse to diminish your accomplishments with a virus. Refuse to define your graduation with a virus,” said Heather Salib, Class of 2020 and the CPS Student Commencement Speaker.

Salib who received her master’s degree in paralegal studies, shares her student insights continuing her professional journey after being out of the workforce raising a family.

She drew inspiration from Mahatma Ghandi and U.S. Navy retired four-star Admiral William H. McRaven to help graduates recognize unexpected and dark things can happen in all our lives. “We have the responsibility to take this incredibly sad moment in history and turn it into our time to shine. Show the world what you’re made of,” she said.

Our Award Winners

The 2020 award recipients are as follows:

  • Kimberly Cecelia Lawrence (Police and Security Studies),
    Dr. Richard F. Southby Police Science Prize
  • Kevin Michael Ryan (Legislative Affairs, GSPM),
    Founding Dean Arterton Award;
  • Christopher John Matthai (Legislative Affairs, GSPM),
    Mark and Debbie Kennedy Frontiers of Freedom Award;
  • Aaron Young (Integrated Information, Science and Technology),
    Undergraduate Distinguished Scholar Award;
  • Adriane Simone Brown (Strategic Public Relations),
    Graduate Distinguished Scholar Award;
  • Karen Vahouny (Strategic Public Relations),
    CPS Faculty Excellence Award.

More information about the awards and comments from presenters.

Presentation of the Graduates

The Commencement website includes a special presentation of the graduates, broken down by program.

These "roll calls" include messages from the program directors and a calling of student names. 

Charge to the Graduates

Dean Deering asked the graduates to consider the true meaning of professional and personal success and issued a six-part Charge to the Graduates:

  1. Apply your knowledge – This includes using your knowledge in your profession and to improve the world around you.
  2. Engage in life-long learning. Today’s learning is never done.
  3. Don’t be afraid to fail. This advice is often given by artists, entrepreneurs, inventors and scientists. Listen to Yoda.
  4. Embrace and practice civility.
  5. Flatten the curve. Save lives, reduce the spread of a devastating virus. Also a metaphor for giving back, for contributing to the public and social good. (Coach your kid’s soccer team, become an elections monitor, found an organization or invent something that serves the common good.) Pay it forward.
  6. “Seek truth but be wary if you think you’ve found it.”

He ended the Charge to the 2020 graduates by saying, “Do your best to uphold these memorable values and this advice I have offered you. I have no doubt you will make us all very proud. Congratulations, raise high, and let’s celebrate (as he swapped his formal hat for a GW baseball cap)!!”

The virtual ceremony concluded with a “singing” of the GW Fight Song and Alma Mater.

CPS Commencement Website