A Morning for the Mayor

January 13, 2011

GW and local community members honor Vincent Gray, B.A. ’64, at celebration breakfast.

In the early 1960s, then-GW student Vincent Gray was one of the only African Americans on campus. He was barred from playing varsity basketball and initially could not join a fraternity.

Struggling with the “difficult social experience,” Mr. Gray was tempted to walk away from GW after his freshman year. Instead, he stayed and became one of the first black members of a university fraternity and later served as president of Tau Epsilon Phi.

The decision to stay, Mr. Gray said, was no less than “life changing.”

“It allowed me to meet people who have been an important part of my life since then,” he said at a breakfast the university held in his honor Thursday. “What a great experience it is to continue to be associated with George Washington University.”

Those on hand to honor the mayor in the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom included local leaders D.C. Chamber of Commerce President Barbara Lang, Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, and George S. Hawkins, general manager of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority.

In his remarks, President Steven Knapp called Mr. Gray’s story about his challenging early days at GW “both sobering and inspiring.”

“I first heard that story in 2009, when then-chairman Gray received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award,” said Dr. Knapp. “Mayor Gray, it was very much our honor to have that opportunity to honor you for both your extraordinary public achievements and, belatedly, for your role as a civil rights pioneer within the university. All of us at George Washington wish you well and stand ready to support you in every way possible.”

GW Student Association President Jason Lifton and GW Presidential Administrative Fellow Anna Phillips welcomed the capacity crowd and recalled some of their moments participating in Mr. Gray’s election campaign.

“There are very few things that can rival the excitement of an election,” said Mr. Lifton. “[On election night] we were there with a whole bunch of GW students, many of whom are here this morning, and all of whom are excited to watch Mayor Gray, a fellow Colonial, take over the reins of our city.”

Calling Mr. Gray a “decent and humane person, someone who can really get things done,” Mr. Evans said he was “very much looking forward to working with Mayor Gray in the years ahead and to continue the progress this city has made.”

Chairman of the GW Board of Trustees W. Russell Ramsey, B.B.A. ’81, recalled Mr. Gray’s impassioned speech to the GW men’s basketball team Jan. 5 during a pre-game pep talk. The mayor was recognized during the game as a former student and intramural basketball player at GW.

“At our university, we have a vision to be nothing less than the most admired and respected university in the world,” said Mr. Ramsey. “And I would say that this is as exciting a time as I could ever imagine to be welcoming back one of our own.”

Mr. Gray noted the tremendous support GW has provided to the District, citing the Stephen Joel Trachtenberg Scholarship program, GW’s partnership with local public high school School Without Walls and Dr. Knapp’s offer to host a job creation symposium in the District.

Mr. Gray said his recent visits to campus made him realize “how much progress we’ve made at this university.”

“It really is uplifting to me to see where this university has come, as a responsible corporate citizen in the District of Columbia,” he said. “It is incredibly comforting to know that George Washington University has continued to make a commitment to the city, has continued to grow, and frankly [is] an institution that I feel I can rely upon in the next four years, to work with us to make this city the greatest place 600,000 people could possibly live in.”

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GW Honors Alumnus and Newly Elected D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray