This Sunday, more than 7,000 students will officially become GW alumni at George Washington’s 2012 Commencement ceremony, marking the first time the university has more than a quarter of a million living alumni in its community.
“Hitting the quarter-of-a-million milestone is another indicator that GW is an institution on the move,” said Jim Core, M.A. ’96, president of the GW Alumni Association. “We now have a quarter of a million reasons to keep telling the GW story so that more of our alums feel inspired to engage with what is happening at the university.”
GW alumni are living in 150 countries around the world, and as a whole donated and pledged almost $30 million to the university during the 2011 fiscal year.
Prominent alumni include Gen. Colin Powell, M.B.A. ’71; AMC Entertainment CEO and President Gerardo Lopez, B.B.A. ’80; and actress and GW Board of Trustee member Kerry Washington, B.A. ’98.
“Having achieved the impressive milestone of a quarter of a million alumni, we are excited to use this opportunity to emphasize what a powerful network we have in our worldwide alumni body,” said Adrienne Rulnick, associate vice president for alumni relations and development.
Alumni remain connected with the university via social media outlets, with more than 20,000 in the GWAA Linked-In group and more than 38,000 in the Alumni Online Community. The number of connected alumni could fill the Charles E. Smith Center 10 times over.
Mr. Core said thousands of alums are also “investing in the next generation” by mentoring current students and fellow alumni. More than 1,200 alumni have registered as career advisers with the GW Alumni Network.
“The Alumni Association provides opportunities to connect professionally and personally with fellow alums to help people reach their goals or simply make a friend in a new town,” he said. “Valuable personal and professional connections grow every day because of GW connections.”
And for some alumni, their ties to the university stretch over multiple degrees and generations.
Alumni Glenn Geelhoed and George McCullars are among a select group of approximately 100 GW alumni who have earned four or more degrees from the university.
A professor of surgery and international medical education at GW, Dr. Geelhoed, M.A. ’91, M.P.H. ’93, M.A. ’95, M.Phil. ’02, Ed.D.’09, said he believes learning and life are “pretty much synonymous.”
“I’ve crossed a lot of finish lines – I’ve run 138 marathons – and I can tell you the final tape isn’t why you run the race. I’ve crossed quite a few podiums at GW too, and that isn’t the finish of your education, it just provides you the tools to start,” he said. “That’s why they call it commencement; it’s a beginning, not an end.”
Dr. McCullars, M.S. ’71, M.Phil. ’74, M.D. ’75, Ph.D. ’76, still remembers some of his GW mentors, including Nobel Prize winner Julius Axelrod, Ph.D. ’55, NIH investigator William Jacoby, Neurology Department Chair Sean O’Reilly, and Biochemistry Department Chair Carleton Treadwell.
“It was worth all the effort…I didn’t do this for the earning capacity, I did it for the learning experience afforded me at GW,” said Dr. McCullars, who currently works in private practice in Mobile, Ala. “Every single day was exciting.”
Emeritus trustee Sheldon Cohen, A.A.’48, B.A.’50, J.D.’52, remains connected to the university more than 65 years after he first attended as an undergraduate in 1946. Mr. Cohen, a former member of the adjunct faculty in the GW Law School and former chairman of the GW Board of Trustees, established the Faye F. and Sheldon S. Cohen Scholarship with his wife in 1992 to support scholarships for full-time law students. Three of his children and a son-in-law hold degrees from the university as well.
Mr. Cohen, who attended the GW Law School on a full scholarship, said George Washington helped prepare him for a career in tax law, which included being appointed the youngest commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service in 1964.
“I was a poor kid who could do well in school but if I had gone to night school, I wouldn’t have been able to do the things I’ve done. That [scholarship] was a gift from GW,” he said. “My kids have done well at GW, and we’ve had fun.”
The desire many alumni have to stay tied to the university is a result of their pride for their alma mater, said Mr. Core.
“Our alums are excited to be part of a leading university that is firmly on the global stage,” he said. “GW alumni, students, professors and researchers are influencing complex public policy decisions and advancing artistic and scientific endeavors around the world. Our list of notable alumni proves that Colonials are extremely successful and make outsized contributions in the public and private sectors in the U.S. and around the world.”
“This quarter-of-a-million milestone underscores to our students that the GW experience continues beyond graduation,” he added. “I am especially thrilled that the class of 2012 is joining our global and lifelong alumni community.”