Saying Goodbye to a Colonial

April 27, 2011

The GW community remembers Ismail Ginwala.

By Jennifer Eder

More than 100 people honored Ismail Ginwala, the GW junior who died in his residence hall earlier this month, during a memorial service Tuesday at Square 80.

Students, faculty and staff shared stories and kind words about the 20-year-old student in the Elliott School of International Affairs.

“The sheer number of people and the close friends that are standing before us is a testament to the lasting impact that Ismail had at his time at GW,” said Jason Lifton, Student Association president. “His vision for the greater good and his compassion and caring nature touched so many people. Ismail’s presence on campus will not only be missed by all of us gathered here tonight but by everyone who didn’t have an opportunity to get to know him. Here at GW, the loss of one is the loss to all.”

Mr. Ginwala’s father, Cassim Ginwala, attended the service and thanked GW for all of the support and prayers for the Ginwala family.

“My son loved GW, and I know he’s looking from somewhere and is grateful for all of your support,” said Cassim, of Chino, Calif.

Mr. Ginwala was the policy director of the GW Roosevelt Institute, a student organization advocating for progressive change in U.S. and foreign policy. After graduating as valedictorian in high school, Mr. Ginwala received a full scholarship to attend GW and was planning to graduate in December.

Nicole Scro, another member of the Roosevelt Institute, described Mr. Ginwala as an intelligent yet witty person who could connect with a range of people.

“His loss is such a tragedy. It’s cruel irony that someone who brought out the best in those around him didn’t see how absolutely wonderful and invaluable he was,” said Ms. Scro.

President Steven Knapp asked the GW community to come together and support one another during this difficult time.

“There are so many things that happen in the experience of being on a college campus. It’s easy to get distracted, and it’s easy to forget about paying attention to those around us,” said Dr. Knapp.

Alex Wright, the political affairs director for the College Democrats, said Mr. Ginwala had a dedication to activism and a passion for eradicating global poverty.

“Everyone he knew was certain he was going places, and it was a certainty that he was going to change the world,” said Mr. Wright.

As a way to honor Mr. Ginwala’s legacy, Mr. Wright encouraged GW students to continue to fight against the injustices in the world.

Mr. Ginwala, who hoped to be an ambassador someday, interned at the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq last semester and passed the U.S. Foreign Service Exam. He also interned for Bill Hedrick, a Democratic nominee for the 44th Congressional District of California in 2008, and was one of the youngest California delegates ever elected to the state Democratic convention.

Rory Silver, a GW junior and founder of the Roosevelt Institute, said Mr. Ginwala was motivated to make the world a better place.

“He was not content with passively watching along the sidelines while people around the world suffered. We all knew that he would have done so much for this country and the world around him,” said Mr. Silver. “We’re all better people from knowing him.”

Amb. Edward W. “Skip” Gnehm Jr., who taught Mr. Ginwala last year, said he frequently spoke to Mr. Ginwala about his dreams of becoming an ambassador.

“I was so excited when he passed the Foreign Service Exam,” said Amb. Gnehm. “I feel a great loss for the country that it won’t benefit by having an ambassador like him representing America abroad.”

Amish Shah, a GW junior and president of the Roosevelt Institute, said Mr. Ginwala was invaluable to the organization because of his expertise in a variety of international policy issues. But despite Mr. Ginwala’s intelligence and many accomplishments, Mr. Shah said his friend was very modest, as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t tell Mr. Shah he had passed the Foreign Service Exam

“Ismail was never a person to boast or brag, but he was always willing to support and congratulate the accomplishments of everyone he met. Although he was quiet, he was not shy. Instead he just had incredible amounts of empathy and remained modest in order to make sure others felt confident and comfortable,” said Mr. Shah.

But what Mr. Shah will remember the most about Mr. Ginwala is his friendship.

“He was an incredible person and an incredible friend. I’m going to miss him so much, and he’ll always remain in my thoughts,” said Mr. Shah.

At the conclusion of the service, students, faculty and staff released white balloons bearing personal messages to Mr. Ginwala into the air.

“In Ismail’s legacy, let’s always ensure that we are there for our friends and family, letting them know that in their darkest hours, we can be a light for them,” said Mr. Silver.

Mr. Ginwala is survived by his father, Cassim; his mother, Luz Ginwala; and his 16-year-old brother, Shahid Ginwala.

Return to the GW Today homepage.

GW Research Blog