Meet 12 inspiring Colonials ready to take on the university and the world.
By Kristen Mitchell
George Washington University’s class of 2020 is a diverse and talented group of more than 2,500 students from 49 states and the District of Columbia and 61 countries. The class includes athletes, activists, world travelers and community leaders from more than 1,700 high schools around the globe.
As these new first-years settle into campus and the next chapter of their lives, 12 students from the class of 2020 sat down with GW Today to discuss their stories, their passions and how they plan to spend the next four years in Washington, D.C. (Photos by Logan Werlinger and William Atkins)
Major: International Affairs
While many of her peers were spending their time learning about world history from textbooks, freshman Imani Moss was traveling the world. As a student at a boarding school in Farmington, Conn., Ms. Moss had traveled to five continents by the time she set foot in Foggy Bottom this fall.
Her middle and high school education focused on helping students see and understand the world, a mission that took her to London, Japan, China and South Africa for class trips. Outside the classroom, Ms. Moss’ involvement with Model U.N. took her to Prague and Panama. This global education has shaped the way she views the world and people around her, she said.
“It’s definitely inspired me to become an international affairs major just to learn more about people,” she said. “The world is so diverse, but the area of Atlanta I lived in wasn’t. It really just opened my eyes that there are different kinds of people in the world.”
Ms. Moss plans to study international affairs with a concentration in counterterrorism. She’s excited that for the first time, she’ll be able to focus on classes that highlight her passion for diversity.
In boarding school Ms. Moss said she always knew everyone’s name, even students in different grades, and chose to come to GW as a larger school that would challenge her.
“If the school didn’t make me nervous a little bit, then it wasn’t the right school,” she said. “You want some place that takes you out of your comfort zone.”
Hometown: Los Angeles
Major: Biomedical Engineering
When John Christopher was thinking about where he would apply to college, he knew about GW, but didn’t picture it as a place he would go.
Both of his parents are alumni who met in college during the 1990s while living in what is now part of District House, and Mr. Christopher didn’t consider following in their footsteps. After visiting the campus, however, he had a change of heart and soon became a Colonial as well.
“They were all surprised when I said I was applying and when I got in. When I said I was going they were really surprised,” Mr. Christopher said. “It was fun for them to be back because stuff has changed a lot.”
Mr. Christopher was also drawn to the university by the School of Engineering and Applied Science and the recently opened Science and Engineering Hall. He plans to study biomedical engineering, a subject he’s passionate about after growing up with a friend born with a serious heart defect. Mr. Christopher said he wants to find ways to help people gain heart function through engineered devices.
He also looks forward to exploring Washington, D.C. and getting a reader registration card from the Library of Congress.
Hometown: Hingham, Mass.
Major: CCAS Undecided
At age three Maria Cerio was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disease that affects the spinal cord, and was told she would be paralyzed for the rest of her life. This fall, however, she will be walking to college classes at GW.
Through hard work and intensive physical therapy Ms. Cerio regained the ability to walk over time, but it hasn’t been easy.
“I wanted to do everything I could to have a normal life, but it definitely takes more work,” she said. “It’s still work every single day.”
In high school Ms. Cerio was a member of the golf team, co-captain of the math club, played the violin and participated in therapeutic sports like horseback riding and adaptive skiing. She was also involved with Best Buddies, where she mentored other children with disabilities.
She never thought an urban school would be a good fit for her, but Ms. Cerio fell in love the first time she visited GW during her junior year. Even then, she said she never would have been able to come without the constant support from Disability Support Services.
Ms. Cerio isn’t sure what she wants to major in yet, but is interested in psychology and human services. Her own disability has shaped her passion to help others, she said.
Hometown: Silver Spring, Md.
As a teenager in Ethiopia, Mikias Gebremeskel found himself at odds against a government who he says silences opposition and does not provide opportunities for lower-class citizens. While passing out fliers advertising an upcoming government protest in May 2014, he was arrested and jailed for five days before being released and forced to flee the country.
Mr. Gebremeskel relocated to the Washington, D.C., area where he lived with an aunt and finished his high school education. He communicates with his parents, who are still in Ethiopia, but doesn’t know what became of the others he was arrested with.
“I can’t go back,” he said.
Mr. Gebremeskel wants to pursue a career in dentistry in the U.S. and is planning to form a club for Ethiopian and Eritrean students with his roommate, a second-generation Ethiopian American.
He said there were few opportunities in Ethiopia for people who don’t work in government, and that because of where he comes from, he appreciates the freedoms afforded by living in the U.S. Mr. Gebremeskel said he has no plans to get involved in politics.
Hometown: Washington, D.C.
Major: Computer Science
Linda Catalan always felt different, the only girl in her male-dominated computer science classes in high school, which were always taught by male teachers. Now as a freshman at GW she feels like for the first time she has peers who understand her.
“Coming here to GW I wasn’t alone, a lot of girls were coming in from high schools where they were the only girls in their computer science class,” she said. “It’s really great to be in a community where you’re not the only one and people understand your situation.”
Another first: One of her professors is a woman too.
Ms. Catalan has lived in Washington, D.C. her entire life and is a GW District Scholars award recipient, a scholarship giving to local high school seniors. Ms. Catalan went to the Field School where she started to explore her passion for science and engineering.
She was always a dedicated student, but became particularly excited about learning when she started coding and participated in Girls Who Code, a program that encourages young girls to get involved in computer science.
“That’s really where it sparked my interest in college,” Ms. Catalan said.
Ms. Catalan is excited to take advantage of the new community she has found at GW and the opportunities ahead.
Miles Harriss-Bauer said spending 18 days sailing across the Atlantic Ocean with his father and uncle gave him the mindset to live in the moment. When you’re in the middle of the ocean with nothing but waves to look at, you can’t dwell on things out of your control.
Harriss-Bauer sailed from the Caribbean to Azores, a cluster of islands off the coast of Portugal, spending more than two weeks in the open ocean.
“It was quite an adventure,” he said. “It turns out there’s not a lot to do on the ocean for 18 days. It’s a lot of reading.”
The Seattle native said the experience was one that has helped him better connect to art and stories about arduous journeys, and that it was a lesson in being content with where he was and what he was doing. He was fortunate to have an experience he never would have otherwise had the chance to do, Mr. Harriss-Bauer said.
“It didn’t help to think about all the things you were missing on land,” he said. “It was a mental game in a lot of ways of just being out there and accepting you were only out there for so long and as unexciting as it may have been sometimes, seeing the good in that.”
Hometown: Potomac, Md.
After a slew of health problems as a child, from febrile seizures to severe asthma that often kept him indoors, Amil Agarwal said he grew to admire the doctors who helped him stay healthy both physically and mentally.
“That made me want to be just like them,” he said. “To help others like that.”
Now Mr. Agarwal is a freshman at GW and enrolled in the seven-year B.A./M.D. program. He plans to study psychology before beginning his medical studies, he said. The seven-year program will allow Mr. Agarwal to try new things he otherwise might put off, he said.
“It lets me branch out and do things I couldn’t do before,” he said.
Mr. Agarwal plans to be a cardiologist, but has spent the last two summers doing research as part of a National Institutes of Health internship program studying proteins in malaria to help develop cures for individual strains.
Outside the classroom Mr. Agarwal is an avid rock climber and white water kayaker.
Hometown: Los Angeles
Major: Political Science
Francesco DeSantis saw Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton for the first time when he attended the annual United Nations Commission on the Status of Women as only one of two male delegates. He ended up working for the Clinton campaign in various capacities in California.
“It was tremendous for that reason,” he said. “You get to see really the powerful women of the world all gathered together.”
Now Mr. DeSantis is a freshman at GW, and is enrolled in the Politics and Values program in the Department of Political Science. After graduation he hopes to work in politics in a capacity where he can influence policy at a think tank or in consulting.
Mr. DeSantis is passionate about gender equality and the environment, he said, and believes common ground can be found across the political spectrum with more understanding.
“I see politics as people trying to make the world better as they see fit,” he said. “Everyone is trying to do what is right in their opinion, and not everyone can always agree, but when you can it’s usually a universal truth, and that is a very powerful thing.”
Hometown: Las Vegas, N.M.
Major: Political Communication
Kyanna Spaulding came to GW from a small, primarily Hispanic town in New Mexico, where she dreamed about city life and working in political media or campaign management, but she has no intention of forgetting where she came from.
“Every community I’m involved with has helped shape me as a person,” she said. “It’s really important to give back to that community.”
Ms. Spaulding is a Cisneros Scholar, which is a scholarship awarded to students with demonstrated leadership, service and aspirations to give back to the Hispanic community. In high school Ms. Spaulding was a five-sport athlete and student council president. The pride she feels about being Hispanic is something Ms. Spaulding wants everyone in the community to feel.
“Being Hispanic is a large part of me,” she said. “I just want people to feel the same sense of pride that I feel when they say that they’re Hispanic.”
Hometown: Atlantic City, N.J.
Major: Political Science
While out getting a haircut near his boarding school in Massachusetts, Aaron Snyder walked by a campaign field office for Democratic candidate for governor Martha Coakley. He walked through the door and soon started volunteering for the campaign, an experience that sparked his passion for politics.
The next summer he interned in Washington, D.C., for his local member of Congress and lived on campus as part of GW’s Summer and Conference Housing program. It was then he decided to apply to GW for college, wanting to make D.C. his home for the next four years.
Mr. Snyder campaigned for Bernie Sanders this year and plans to study political science to later work in public service himself. The diversity in politics is appealing, he said.
“You can debate, you can argue. Some of the brightest minds in politics have very different views and opinions,” he said.
After arriving in D.C. this fall Mr. Snyder sought out progressive groups on campus to join. In the future he hopes to become a civil rights lawyer and enter local politics.
“Who knows how far I’ll get,” he said.
Hometown: Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
Major: International Affairs
When Sam Hargy’s father died after being diagnosed with Stage 3 esophageal cancer the week before she started high school, her perspective on what is important in life and who she wanted to be shifted.
In her hometown on Martha’s Vineyard, most people stayed local after graduation, attending trade schools or entering the workforce, but Ms. Hargy decided she wanted to expand her world. Participating in service trips to Costa Rica and Africa sparked her interested in international affairs, which she plans to study at GW.
She threw herself into high school sports, playing varsity basketball and lacrosse all four years, and was involved with student government as a three-time class president and student body president her senior year. Her passion for community involvement stems from her father, she said.
As a volunteer firefighter, EMT and county jail food service officer, Ms. Hargy’s dad always pushed her to be her best.
“He was so determined in everything he did, I just want to do well for him in school and in whatever else I want to do after,” she said. “It just makes me want to do better.”
Hometown: Bennett, Colo.
Major: Political Science
Aaron Galloway became passionate about politics during the 2014 midterm elections, writing to his local representatives about LGBTQ issues and running for student government at his rural Colorado high school where he helped tackle racial injustices and form a gay-straight alliance.
Now in the nation’s capital, Mr. Galloway, a Cisneros Scholar and first-generation college student, plans to channel some of that political drive toward a political science degree.
“When I came down last October I just fell in love with the campus,” he said. “In the middle of the city there are so many opportunities.”
Mr. Galloway is an advocate for LGBTQ rights and is passionate about helping Hispanic children. The town Mr. Galloway grew up in was about 35 percent Hispanic, and as the grandchild of Spanish immigrants, his heritage is an important part of his identity.
“I always felt a sense of community in that area. We all knew what each other’s struggles were like, we all faced the same discrimination, we all faced the same challenges with barriers or languages,” he said.
Mr. Galloway said in the future he is interested in working in constitutional law.