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GW Celebrates Namesake on 280th Birthday
February 22, 2012
Community members participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Mount Vernon Estate before lighting a bonfire on University Yard in the first president’s honor.
George Washington community members feted their university’s namesake on his 280th birthday Wednesday, participating in events that stretched from University Yard to Washington’s historic Mount Vernon Estate and beyond.
In an afternoon ceremony, administrators, faculty, staff and students toured Washington’s estate and grounds in Mount Vernon, Va., ending at the general and president’s iron-gated tomb to pay tribute.
After Dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Peg Barratt led a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, GW President Steven Knapp offered remarks.
“It is a real honor to be here at the tomb of our namesake, and to participate along with others in the tradition of laying a wreath on the occasion of his birthday,” Dr. Knapp said.
In his speech, Dr. Knapp noted Washington is a symbol of the nation’s “complicated history.” Washington owned slaves. But, Dr. Knapp added, he also left a provision in his will for the freeing of his slaves, and was cited by Martin Luther King Jr. for his adherence to and aspirations for democracy. So the first president “stands for the continuing need for our country to progress,” Dr. Knapp said.
GW student Alex Whisnant, a Columbian College freshman, then read “General Washington’s Prayer for His Country,” and Dr. Knapp placed a wreath between Washington and wife Martha Washington’s tombs. Members of the GW Navy ROTC watched on with other university members, observing a moment of silence as Midshipman 3rd Class Connor Riley played “Taps.”
The celebration extended into the evening as community members convened again, descending on University Yard to listen to Colonial-era music, watch a procession of a fife and drum corps, light a bonfire and enjoy s’mores. The event also served to kick off the university’s 100th anniversary in Foggy Bottom.
Presidential Administrative Fellows Darnell Cadette and Jordan Chaffin introduced Dr. Knapp, who addressed hundreds before lighting the bonfire with Big George.
Dr. Knapp reflected on the university’s beginnings: In 1912, it had just 1,000 students. It has since grown to 25,000 with campuses and centers across the capital region. Dr. Knapp noted that while the university fulfills George Washington’s vision of creating an institution in the nation’s capital that educates the world’s future leaders, it’s necessary to remember the complexities of Washington’s life.
“We’re a university that’s trying to serve, to live out the dream of democracy, which has been such a complex, emerging part of American history,” said Dr. Knapp, referring to the nation’s history of slavery. “I call upon all of us to remain true to that dream and to keep alive the legacy of George Washington in all of its complex dimensions.”
Dr. Knapp also announced the winners of the challenge issued to student organizations to collect used cell phones for GW + Phones = Hope. Collecting the cell phones—which will be recycled to fund maternal and child health mobile technology projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Nepal—is the university’s “Commitment to Action” as the host of the Clinton Global Initiative University.
The Trachtenberg Student Organization received $1,000 for winning the drawing of student organizations that collected at least 100 phones. The organizations that collected the most phones were: AIESEC, which came in first and won $3,000; Alpha Pi Omega, which came in second and won $2,000; and Camp Kesem, which took third and won $1,000.
The celebration for George Washington’s birthday extended beyond the capital area. On Wednesday, more than 500 alumni gathered in 34 cities around the world, from Buenos Aires to London and San Francisco to Atlanta. Festivities included birthday cakes, trivia, networking and even a wine tasting. (See photos of the celebrations here.)
“We want to make sure that alums are able to maintain their connection to GW, no matter how far away they are or how long it’s been since their last trip to campus,” said Mia Monroe, M.T.A ’06, who organized a happy hour in Houston.
Added Jason Blank, B.A. ’02, a lawyer who organized a celebration in Hallandale Beach, Fla.: “I chose to plan this event mostly because it’s fun. What better way to show some GW pride than to celebrate our school’s namesake?”