After only their second week as George Washington University students, nearly 2,400 freshmen spent their Saturday doing service projects at schools, parks, recreation sites and retirement facilities as part of the university’s Freshman Day of Service.
The day also marked Freshman Convocation – the students’ first academic ceremony and a GW tradition – for the class of 2016.
“Holding the Freshman Day of Service in conjunction with Freshman Convocation is a great match, integrating all of the hallmarks of the GW experience: excellence in academics, in service and in community life,” said Amy Cohen, executive director of the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service. “From their very first days at GW, we want students to have an opportunity to work together as a community to make an impact on the world, developing their knowledge and forging strong relationships with one another and with our neighbors in D.C. and the region.”
After an academic procession in the Charles E. Smith Center , the deans of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Business, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Elliott School of International Affairs and the School of Public Health and Health Services officially welcomed the new students to their schools and wished them well on their academic journeys.
“Today you will become a part of our legacy of service, and I hope this will just be the start of your commitment to serve,” said George Washington President Steven Knapp during his remarks at Freshman Convocation.
In 2009, GW held its first Freshman Day of Service. That same day, First Lady Michelle Obama, who served as the Commencement speaker the following spring, challenged the university to complete 100,000 hours of community service. GW exceeded the challenge and has continued to place an emphasis on service.
The university offers various service-learning courses that allow students to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to serving the community and solving real-world problems. Steven Lerman, provost and associate vice president for academic affairs, encouraged the freshmen to enroll in a service-learning course and look for other opportunities to serve.
“We hope this is the beginning of a long four-year career here at GW in which you take what you have learned and take your energy and spirit and apply it to use for the betterment of your fellow citizens,” said Dr. Lerman during Freshman Convocation.
GW’s Freshman Day of Service coincided with the National Day of Service and Remembrance, which promotes service projects to honor the 9/11 victims and pay tribute to the first responders and others who served their country in the aftermath of the attacks. The day also supports the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, an initiative of President Barack Obama that encourages colleges and universities to commit to interfaith and community service programming.
According to Stan Soloway, who serves on the board of directors for the Corporation for National and Community Service – a federal agency that leads President Obama’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve – GW’s Freshmen Day of Service is the largest day of service of any college in the U.S.
“There is no better or more honorable way to begin your college career than to begin with service to others,” said Mr. Soloway during his remarks at Freshman Convocation. “Your generation has answered the call to service, and the message is loud and clear – you want to be the change you want to see in the world. You have a desire to make a difference and be part of something bigger than yourselves.”
Also at Freshman Convocation, keynote speaker Donna Brazile, who serves as the Democratic National Committee’s vice chair of voter registration and participation as well as a Georgetown University professor and political analyst for CNN and ABC, told the students to think of service as their rent for living on the planet.
“When you leave this campus to serve others, what you’re really doing is leaving your own comfort zone,” she said. “You’re consciously choosing to expose yourself to the way others live and the challenges they face. And that will always make you a better person.”
In honor of GW’s 100 years in Foggy Bottom, students listened to a brief history of the site they were assigned to serve at and GW’s engagement with that neighborhood.
More than 100 students served at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, a public high school in Georgetown. GW has had a long history of supporting Duke Ellington. One of the school’s founders, Peggy Cooper Cafritz, B.A. ’68, J.D. ’71, is a GW alumna, and GW continues to support Duke Ellington through its participation in the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Project.
Duke Ellington will be relocating next summer so that its historic building can undergo a two-year renovation. GW students began to help school faculty and administrators clean out storage closets, organize old records by genre in preparation for digitizing them and take an inventory of costumes and instruments.
GW students also volunteered at Coolidge High School in Takoma by working in the school garden.
“I really enjoy giving back to the community,” said Jennifer Fendt, a freshman from Haddonfield, N.J., who weeded in the Coolidge garden. “Even if it’s small, it can really make an impact. We are so fortunate to be able to go to George Washington University, and we need to be able to give back to the people around us.”
Ms. Cohen urged the freshmen to continue to make service a part of their GW experience.
“We hope that students will be inspired to continue to be involved in service while at GW and make a positive impact in our region,” she said.