More than 2,500 university community members participated at 44 service sites in D.C., Virginia and Maryland.
By Kristen Mitchell
First-year student Johnny Morgart took a moment to rest in front of the Lincoln Memorial, having pushed a wheelbarrow full of mulch through crowds of tourists on a busy, hot Saturday afternoon. He wiped sweat from his forehead while surveying his new classmates raking landscaping and picking up litter.
“It’s nice to see all these green shirts around,” Mr. Morgart said.
Mr. Morgart was one of more than 2,500 George Washington University students, faculty and staff members who participated in Freshman Day of Service following a convocation ceremony held in the Charles E. Smith Center Saturday morning. It was the university’s eighth annual Day of Service, a tradition organized by the Honey W. Nashman Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service since 2009, when First Lady Michelle Obama challenged GW to complete 100,000 hours of community service. The university has consistently exceeded Mrs. Obama’s goal, last year recording more than 685,000 service hours.
The day also is part of GW’s annual remembrance of Sept. 11.
Students, faculty and staff participated at 44 services sites across all eight wards of Washington, D.C., in Maryland and Virginia. Mr. Morgart, a School of Business student from Boston, said he was proud of the contributions GW students were making to the community.
“A lot of people don’t really realize the impact they can have,” he said. “If you can spend a couple of hours bettering others, that makes a difference.”
Each year participants conclude the day by reflecting on the significance of their work. University President Steven Knapp said this year students should reflect on the theme selected by 9/11 Day, the nonprofit group that organizes the nationwide commemoration each year: Tomorrow Together: A Call for Empathy, Service, and Unity.
“I believe that premise is particularly relevant at this moment in our history when we face not only what is arguably the most divisive national election in living memory but are still reeling from the tragic incidents that have so dramatically highlighted our differences and divisions in the past several years,” Dr. Knapp said during his convocation address.
He also read a portion of a letter to the GW community he wrote in July after violence in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas, and encouraged students to think about the work they needed to do together to build the kind of community that will make GW the best it could be.
After convocation Dr. Knapp and about 200 students traveled to the Lincoln Memorial where they worked on projects to beautify the grounds, raking the landscape and putting down fresh mulch.
Kira Hattenbach, a senior in economics and site captain, said living in Washington, D.C., many first-year students are confronted for the first time with people who are less fortunate.
“It’s a very good lesson for everyone who is living in a city for the first time to really be able to serve those around us in a community that we are now a part of,” she said.
Ms. Hattenbach said she hopes new students end the day with an appreciation for service and the impact they can have by donating a few hours of their time.
Dr. Knapp continued his service with A Wider Circle, an organization that aims to end poverty one person and family at a time. Dr. Knapp joined 75 students in sorting and moving furniture at North Capitol Commons in Ward 6, a mixed-income housing property which will provide apartments for 60 formerly homeless veterans.
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences senior Sara Durrani spoke at convocation about how she found her community at GW through service and diversity. As president of the GW Alternative Breaks Program, Ms. Durrani said she hopes other students will continue to give back.
“Your next few years will hold bright opportunities, memories and friendships. Hopefully, you take the time to incorporate service experiences as well,” she said. “I know that you will find your community, whether that’s service, cultural organizations or otherwise here at GW.”