Anya Sczerzenie, Contributing Writer
The second floor of Richmond’s historic Main Street Station is usually a cavernous, empty space, disturbed only by the occasional passing Amtrak train. But Saturday night, it was full of flashing, purple lights, a small bar decorated with flowers and 800-plus graduate students and their guests.
Local DJ Lady Syren was in charge of the music as attendees gathered to dance and eat at the 16th annual Graduate and Professional Students’ Ball, hosted by the Graduate Students’ Programming Board, or GSPB.
This is the second year the ball has been held at Main Street Station. According to Meghan Zapiec, assistant director for student programming and campus engagement, attendance has increased to the point where they can no longer host it in a hotel ballroom.
“We don’t do many events like this, which is why I think the students love it so much,” Zapiec said. “It’s something a little out of the ordinary.”
The ball was once a smaller event, advertised mostly to medical students and hosted at the Omni or Marriott hotels. Three years ago, the ball expanded its advertising to all graduate students, and now students from any graduate program can attend and bring guests.
“This is our biggest event of the year,” said Elizabeth Engel, graduate assistant at the GSPB. “It’s just been expanding. We moved it [to Main Street Station] so we can have up to 1,100 folks if that’s how many tickets we sell.”
Sisters Vyvy and Deedee Norng, along with Vyvy’s fiance, Jamie Gentry, attended the ball. Vyvy is a third-year pharmacy student who brought her sister and fiance as guests.
“I love coming, it’s really fun, the food’s great, and it’s so nice seeing people outside of school,” Vyvy Norng said.
Some students who attended were there for the first time, including Ben Spence, a 29-year-old in the mechanical and nuclear engineering program.
“I always wanted to come here,” Spence said. “Main Street Station is a beautiful space on the outside, and now on the inside too.”
Many students who attended were in the last year of their programs, hoping to have fun before graduating.
“This is my last year in the classroom before I start my clinical rotation,” said pharmacy student Adwoa Nyame. “This is just my opportunity to get away from school, hang out with friends and meet other students.”
Chemical engineering student Shani Levit came to “celebrate and relax.”
“Grad school generally is very tough.” Levit said. “It’s high pressure and high stress, so it’s nice to have activities like this where you can relax and celebrate.”
The event doesn’t make any money for the Graduate and Professional Studies Board according to Zapiec, and they generally break even after using the money from ticket sales and from the university to cover the cost of hosting the event. This cost includes renting the space and hiring caterers from local company Magic Special Events.
“It depends on the year and ticket sales, but we definitely don’t make a profit off of this,” said Zapiec.
Students paid around $40 per ticket, but could get a discounted ticket for $35.