By Jay Conley
Replacing landscaping, building picnic tables and painting 18,000 square feet of walls at the D.C. Fire and EMS Training Academy was just one of 40 service projects conducted Saturday by George Washington University freshmen and student leaders as part of GW’s annual Freshman Convocation and Day of Service.
At the Charles E. Smith Center, the class of 2017 was welcomed by GW President Steven Knapp, Provost Steven Lerman and leaders from 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.
At GW’s first Freshman Day of Service in 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama challenged the university to complete 100,000 hours of community service. GW exceeded the challenge and has continued to place an emphasis on service. Last year, university community members completed 254,000 hours of service.
|Roslyn Brock, M.S.’ 89, GW trustee and chair of the national board of the NAACP, delivers freshman Convocation's keynote address.|
Coordinated by GW’s Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service, Freshman Day of Service also commemorates the 9/11 National Day of Service and Remembrance along with the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.
Students on Saturday worked on service projects at schools, parks, community centers and veteran retirement facilities to provide beautification, restoration and environmental clean-up. They were dispatched to service sites in all eight wards of D.C., as well as locations in Virginia and Maryland. Some students even walked to sites in Foggy Bottom, including the GroW Garden on H Street, St. Mary's Court on 24th Street, and the dog park on 26th Street. Donations from Clark Construction made service projects possible at two sites, McKinley Tech High School and the dog park in Foggy Bottom.
“Today you become part of the legacy of service, as more than 2,400 students, faculty and staff participate in this fifth Freshman Day of Service,” said Dr. Knapp. “I hope that’s just the start of your commitment to serve, whether in Washington, D.C., elsewhere in the nation or around the world. Wherever you find your passion, continue to serve and connect your service with your education.”
The keynote speaker at Saturday’s convocation was Roslyn Brock, M.S.’ 89, a GW trustee and chair of the national board of the NAACP. Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, also made brief remarks.
“Now more than ever before we need authentic local, state and national servant leaders who understand fundamentally that really life is about others,” said Ms. Brock, who led the class of 2017 in a pledge to be volunteer leaders. “And service to others, my friends, is the rent we pay for the space we occupy.”
The theme for this year’s event was “Fulfilling the Dream of Democracy,” which connects the day of service to GW’s year-long series, “Pro[Claiming] Freedom.” The series commemorates the 150th anniversary of the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
“It’s all about fulfilling the dream that goes back to that speech 50 years ago,” said Dr. Knapp, who painted walls alongside about 100 GW freshmen at the training academy in Southwest D.C. Military veterans from the volunteer organization the Mission Continues and volunteers from My Good Deed, which nationally promotes the 9/11 Day of Service, were also on hand to help out.
Gaby Fabre, a freshman from Montreal, helped paint walls in a classroom of the training center and said she volunteered regularly in soup kitchens as a high school student.
“I think it’s such an important part of being a student,” she said of volunteering. “Being full of energy, being young, being able to help people, I think you need to take advantage of that. I want to be part of a sorority at GW that does community service because I want that to be part of my life.”
Nick Barracca, a GW senior from Seattle, who is majoring in international affairs, was one of Saturday’s student organizers at the training center. He has continued to volunteer for service projects since he participated as a freshman in the Freshman Day of Service.
“The work may be small, but it goes a long way,” he said. ”I’ve gone to a couple different food banks. Miriam’s Kitchen is one of them. I’ve helped prepare meals for different families.”
Mr. Barracca is a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, which supports the Children’s Miracle Network. “I went to Children’s National Hospital [in D.C.] and visited with different kids and just played games with them. It seems small, but when they’re really sick, it helps.”
|President Steven Knapp lends a hand at the D.C. Fire and EMS Training Academy.|
Senior Alex Immekus served as a site captain at Garrison Elementary School in Northwest D.C. “Participating in Freshman Day of Service, especially serving as a site captain, helped reaffirm my career choice in becoming a teacher," he said. “While Principal Hill told us about how all the students would notice the work we had done, all I could imagine was five- and six-year-olds running around asking their teachers about the new gardens that we started and how great that feeling would be being a teacher.”
In his closing remarks at convocation, Dr. Knapp encouraged the class of 2017 to take on the role of citizen-leader envisioned by George Washington when he first dreamed of the university.