GW Today looks back at top stories from seniors’ time on campus.
By Ruth Steinhardt
It was the summer of “Turn Down for What,” the men’s World Cup in Brazil and the birth of the “Black Lives Matter” movement when the class of 2018 arrived at the George Washington University. On May 20, they’ll gather on the National Mall as graduates.
As seniors prepare for the next phase of their lives, we’re taking a look back at some of George Washington Today’s top stories and memorable cultural moments from their years as GW students.
Freshman Year: 2014-2015
- The year’s biggest story was then-President Barack Obama’s visit to Lisner to appear on a special episode of comedy news powerhouse “The Colbert Report.” The president discussed immigration, the Affordable Care Act and the Keystone pipeline before an excited crowd of GW community members.
- Celebrities from Alexander Ovechkin to Oprah Winfrey took the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” drenching themselves in cold water to promote awareness of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
- Many students had the chance to see a childhood hero in action when popular educator Bill Nye visited Lisner Auditorium to advocate for critical thought in America.
- The Colonial Health Center opened in January, offering a central location for medical, counseling, prevention and health promotion services.
- Several new institutions opened their doors: Faculty moved into the university’s Science and Engineering Hall in December, and more than 2,000 visitors attended opening celebrations for the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum in March.
- Apple CEO Tim Cook delivered the Commencement address, urging students: "No matter what you do next, the world needs your energy, your passion, your impatience with progress."
Sophomore Year: 2015-2016
- New leaders abounded at the beginning of the year. Ambassador Reuben Brigety III became dean of the Elliott School of International Affairs; Pam Jeffries became dean of the School of Nursing; and GW incorporated the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, with longtime arts advocate and educator Sanjit Sethi at the helm.
- Pope Francis paid his historic visit to Washington, D.C., spending much of his time within a walking radius of the Foggy Bottom Campus.
- Fascinating faculty research came to the forefront in three of the year’s most-read stories: a professor of anthropology’s work on 400-year-old skeletons at Machu Picchu, an instructional librarian’s high-flying analysis of Harry Potter and a museum studies professor’s key role in preserving Star Wars’ C-3PO.
- Retired Daily Show host Jon Stewart anchored Colonials Weekend in October with two sold-out performances.
- The class of 2018's last semester as sophomores was marked by a record-breaking winter storm.
- In February, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper discussed the challenges and rewards of his career as an openly gay journalist with a major national platform.
- Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) was the year’s Commencement speaker.
- As sophomore year came to a close, George Washington President Steven Knapp announced his intent to step down as president after a decade of service.
Junior Year: 2016-2017
- At GW and across the nation, the year’s biggest story was Donald Trump’s surprise election to the presidency. For GW students, it was the best of times and the worst of times.
- In the aftermath, students came together at the traditional GW inaugural ball. The Women’s March in January made a cappella group the GW Sirens part of a viral video that gained them 14 million views and bookings on national television.
- Unsurprisingly, GW students were named among the top most politically active for the fourth year in a row.
- Senator and onetime presidential aspirant Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) visited campus three times: once shortly after the election to discuss his memoir, once to discuss President Trump’s cabinet confirmation hearings and once to debate health care with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
- The university also hosted several more live CNN town halls, one with Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), speaker of the House, on health care repeal and immigration reform, and one with Sens. Lindsay Graham (R.-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.).
- November’s national election wasn’t the only presidential turnover. Thomas J. LeBlanc was named successor to Dr. Knapp as the 17th president of GW, calling it an “incredibly exciting adventure.”
- GW’s newest residence hall, District House, opened its doors to almost 900 residents in September 2016. Since the opening, hit fast-casual restaurants like Chick-fil-A, Peet’s Coffee and Wiseguy NY Pizza have opened to lines of devotees.
- Supreme Court legend Ruth Bader Ginsberg came to Lisner in February to discuss gender equality, immigration rights and what really makes America great. In fact, the class of 2018 has had three chances to see the Notorious RBG in action: She spoke at Constitution Day their freshman year and, a few months later, discussed friendship across ideological lines with Justice Scalia. Fellow Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer also came to campus.
- The class’s junior year Commencement speaker was Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D.-Ill.), M.A. ’92, a combat veteran and Purple Heart recipient—who made headlines in 2018 when she became the first member of Congress to give birth while in office.
Senior Year: 2017-2018
- As the class of 2018 began to close out their GW experience, Dr. LeBlanc (pronounced “LeBlanh”) began his own. Dr. LeBlanc and his wife, Anne LeBlanc, got to know their new community over the course of the fall semester, culminating in a daylong inauguration celebration.
- Luis Fonsi, Daddy Yankee and Justin Bieber’s smash hit “Despacito” dominated the airwaves, tying the record for most weeks occupying Billboard’s No. 1 spot.
- The GW community kept up with a frenetic news cycle during the fall semester, responding not only to developments in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, but also to violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., and to changes in Title IX guidance issued by the Department of Education.
- It was a year of change for top positions in the GW administration. Dr. Leblanc made staff appointments, and the university’s new vice president for development and alumni relations and new chief spokesperson came on board.
- White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway, J.D. ’92, visited GW to discuss her experience working in the White House. She wasn’t the only Trump administration official to visit: campaign manager Corey Lewandowski also discussed Mr. Trump as both candidate and president, while White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders participated in a GW forum with reporters.
- On the other side of the aisle, GW Law alumnus Michael Avenatti, J.D. ’00, attorney for adult film star Stormy Daniels, discussed his legal battle over a non-disclosure agreement with President Donald Trump.
- In the spring, “Black Panther” destroyed box office records and preconceptions.
- Foggy Bottom was abuzz when Emmanuel Macron, the president of the Republic of France, held a town hall event at the Charles E. Smith Center in May. He encouraged students to challenge the traditional rules of politics and even posed for selfies.
- The spring semester saw visits from several prominent speakers, including former FBI director James Comey, “Avengers: Infinity War” directors Anthony and Joe Russo and CNN anchor Jake Tapper.
- On Sunday, the class will graduate on the National Mall with words from National Academy of Sciences President Marcia McNutt. Former George Washington President Steven Knapp and Olympic medalist Elana Meyers Taylor will receive honorary degrees.