‘First Night’ at Mount Vernon Is a Celebratory Start to Welcome Week

Class of 2019 gets acquainted at university namesake’s historic Virginia estate.

First Night 2015
Members of the George Washington University Class of 2019 kick off the new academic year at the estate of university namesake George Washington.
August 30, 2015

By Brittney Dunkins

The past, present and future converged Saturday evening for more than 2,000 members of the George Washington University Class of 2019 who gathered at the historic Mount Vernon Estate for the annual ‘First Night.’

Timid conversations turned to friendly chatter during the mild-weathered evening of food, games and fireworks as students forged friendships and focused on the night’s goal: building community.

“We hope this is the beginning of a process that bonds you together as Colonials,” Provost Steven Lerman said to the crowd of students gathered on the lawn overlooking the Potomac River.

First Night is the first event of the 2015 Welcome Week, a 13-day series of events designed to introduce students to the GW community. Events culminate in the annual and Freshman Day of Service and Convocation on Sept. 12.

GW students pose with one of many historical reenactors who roamed the grounds of the Mount Vernon Estate during tours to share pieces of history.


The fast-paced evening included “ice-breaker” activities for students, dinner on the lawn of the estate, tours of the grounds and lawn games. The event was organized by the Division of Student Affairs and funded by alumni, parents and friends of the university including the Masonic Foundation of D.C., the D.C. Scottish Rite Foundation, Coca-Cola and Corner Bakery Cafe. Other donations were provided by the Lowe Family, Fred Mack, Steve and Lori Ross, Jeffrey and Loren Taufield and an anonymous donor in honor of Leon and Leesa Wagner. 

A selfie contest challenged students to download the Mount Vernon app and post photos with the hashtag “#GWFirstNight,” for a chance to win prizes including tickets to see Colonials Weekend headliner Jon Stewart.

Like many freshman, Aileen Aebischer, Vruti Venkatesan, Kate Uesugi and Gwen Cochran spent the day getting to know one another.  Though they have diverse backgrounds—hailing from Sweden, Illinois, Hawaii and Texas—they have one important thing in common: they’ll spend the next year as roommates in Thurston Hall.

“Everyone has been really nice and really open to meeting other people,” Ms. Venkatesan.It can be awkward to talk to people you don’t know, but I appreciate that there’s an event like this.”

Roommates Gavin Ho and Vincent He also said that First Night has been a great way to get over first-day jitters. Both traveled from China to attend GW.

“The best thing so far has definitely been the food,” Mr. He laughed. “I am also happy to meet more American and international students and see how everyone interacts.”

Student Association President Andie Dowd and Executive Vice President Casey Syron were on hand to greet the incoming class. The SA leaders reflected fondly on their First Night experience as the beginning of a host of “only at GW” moments.

Students played lawn games, including a life-size jenga puzzle. 


“First Night is just the start of Welcome Week and there are so many great activities in store for students,” Ms. Dowd said. “If I had to give advice, I’d tell students to rely on one another and the great people at GW who are here to help them through their first year from their resident advisor, to their professors, friends and the SA.”

Mr. Syron agreed saying that students should take this time to explore their interests but not feel pressured to take on too many activities at once.

 “I think the student organization fair is the best way for students to find out about activities on campus and get involved,” Mr. Syron said. “If it weren’t for the org fair, I never would have gotten involved in theater, which is where I met friends in Greek Life, and from there I got involved in Residence Hall Association and the Student Association.”

“It worked out for me and it all started at the org fair,” he laughed.

The evening culminated in a fireworks display over the Potomac River. 


Check out a few Welcome Week highlights below and view the full list of activities online.

Student Performance Showcase
Aug. 31, 7:30 p.m., Lisner Auditorium
Applaud student talent at the annual showcase of student organizations from music, to dance and comedy.

Be A Good Neighbor Orientation
Sept. 1, 6 p.m., Charles E. Smith Center, Champions Club
Whether living on or off campus this hour-long orientation is a tutorial on building a positive community. A second session will be held Sept. 3

Wellness Wednesday: Colonial Health Center Open House
Sept. 2, 5:30 p.m., Marvin Center, Ground Floor
The first of many “Wellness Wednesday” open house events at the Colonial Health Center will feature ice cream sundaes and information about student wellness services.

Cookies and Careers
Sept. 3, Noon, Kogan Plaza
The Center for Career Services and Captain Cookie join forces for a kickoff event that will offer complimentary cookies to the first 150 students and information about internship and career opportunities and career services at GW.

Sustainability Open House
Sept. 3, 3 p.m., Marvin Center, Room 310
Find out how you can support green strategies at the Office of Sustainability fair featuring student organizations, information about sustainable campus features, the sustainability minor and more.

MSSC Block Party
Sept. 4, 4 P.M., Marvin Center, Third Floor Terrace
GW’s diverse campus culture takes center stage at the 11th annual block party sponsored by the Multicultural Student Services Center.

EngageGW: Student Organization and University Services Fair
Sept. 5, 1 p.m., Kogan Plaza
Meet the people behind GW’s student organizations and services and find ways to get involved in the GW community outside of the classroom.

Fall Fest
Sept. 5, 3 p.m., University Yard
GW Program Board sponsors this campus-wide event featuring games, food and a performance from Danish singer Mø.

First Generation Connect
Sept. 9, 6:30 p.m., Marvin Center, Room 403
First-year students and upperclassmen who identify as first-generation college students are invited to meet one another and learn about GW student organizations and resources for success.

Freshman Day of Service and Convocation
Sept. 12, 11 a.m., Charles E. Smith Center
GW Class of 2019, faculty and staff come together to for convocation and then take part in the annual Freshman Day of Service.