President Granberg: ‘GW, We Are Here Because We Know the World Needs Us’

Ellen M. Granberg delivered an inaugural address Friday during her official installation as president, outlining her vision for GW to create change for the betterment of itself and society.

November 6, 2023

President Ellen M. Granberg at the podium

President Ellen M. Granberg delivered her inaugural address at Friday's investiture ceremony at the Charles E. Smith Center. (William Atkins/GW Today)

As she formally assumed leadership of the George Washington University, Ellen M. Granberg acknowledged the incredible foundation she stands upon as the 19th president of a proud institution with a 200-plus year history of exceptional education and groundbreaking research.

Granberg noted that GW’s legacy, created by prestigious and accomplished faculty, staff, students and alumni, is something that should always be celebrated. It’s now her task, she said, to work with the GW community to ensure that legacy carries into the future.

And that future, she said, is now.

Granberg gave that pledge while delivering her inaugural address during the investiture ceremony Friday morning at the Charles E. Smith Center in front of current and former university leaders, alumni, trustees, and friends and family, including her wife, Sonya Rankin.

While each member of the GW community is unique, Granberg sees a connection through one common goal: to change the world.

It’s because of this shared aspiration that she feels confident that the university is ready to answer some of society’s greatest callings as GW and the world have reached a set of critical and defining moments.

“We are here at the George Washington University because we know the world needs change and can change,” said Granberg, who for the first time donned the GW chain of office worn by the president of the university as a symbol of authority. “And we are here because we know that this university, in the heart of our nation’s capital, is the place to make change happen.”

“GW, we are here because we know the world needs us. It’s this passion for change, this innate desire to see through the darkness and stay focused on the opportunity that defines us.”

Granberg has already seen these principles put to action and believes a quick look around GW’s campuses right now shows how students, faculty and staff are actively working to tackle present challenges while preparing for those in the future.

In response to world events that have stoked passions and highlighted divisions, she has seen the community come together to combat hate and deepen a collective understanding by creating spaces for healing, discussion and productive engagement. GW faculty have hosted panels featuring schools and experts in leading the community in modeling civil discourse and disagreement, and schools and colleges are banding together to create new curricula in contextualizing present conflicts and current affairs.

Granberg is proud that GW is co-leading the NSF Institute for Trustworthy AI in Law and Society, which is addressing the challenges presented by AI and rapidly evolving technology. She also noted the launch of the Global Food Institute with renowned chef, restaurateur and humanitarian José Andrés to address issues of climate crisis, public health, hunger and poverty.

“As a university, we are resilient, and GW is here today because we know how to use these moments to recommit to our strengths, animated by the idea that the world needs GW to continue striving to solutions to all our grand challenges,” Granberg said.

The GW president is also eager to continue breaking down disciplinary silos and encouraging cross-collaboration across the university’s 10 schools and colleges, leading to more opportunities for the community to come together to “create new knowledge and unlock bold solutions.”

Her commitment to research and innovation has already been well received.

“President Granberg has a true and deep understanding of the many areas of scholarship and teaching that are vital to a preeminent research university,” said Ilana Feldman, professor of anthropology, history and international affairs as well as the chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, at the investiture ceremony. “Notably, she brings experience across the humanities, social sciences and STEM fields. This understanding and appreciation have been evident in the many conversations she has had with faculty in the schools through the Faculty Senate and elsewhere.”

Granberg’s tenure coincides with the GW’s newly minted membership in the prestigious Association of American Universities (AAU), cementing the university’s status as a top-tier institutional leader in research, education and innovation.

Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82, said strong leadership is pivotal right now as the university ushers in a new era at the beginning of its third century.

She expressed confidence that the GW community is in good hands with Granberg at the helm.

“With our aspirations greater than ever, we needed a leader who understood those aspirations and would champion our commitment to academic excellence, enhance the impact of scholarship and help us build on our preeminence,” Speights said. “We needed a leader who could unite the GW community and inspire us to raise together. We celebrate President Granberg’s inauguration today with the knowledge that she is definitely that leader.”

Other speakers on Friday included Provost Christopher Alan Bracey, who delivered welcome remarks; GW Staff Council President Bridget Schwartz; GW Alumni Association President Maxwell Gocala-Nguyen, M.A. ’16; Professor and Director of the Graduate Program in Islamic Studies Mohammad H. Faghfoory; alumnus Gideon Zelermyer, B.A. ’97; and Multicultural Student Services Center Director Dustin J. Pickett.

Additionally, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar, a friend of Granberg, provided remarks and reflected to when she first learned of Granberg’s fervor for teaching and helping students.

“I asked her what drew to her (academic administration), and this is what she told me: ‘I was hooked the first I was able to make it possible for someone to do the work that they were passionate about,’” Prabhakar said. “That’s what drives Ellen.”  

Esteemed poet Richard Blanco, who read at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, shared his original work “Teach Us, Then.” 

Former GW presidents Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, Steven Knapp, Thomas J. LeBlanc and Mark S. Wrighton were also in attendance.

While Granberg is inspired daily by the diverse group of talented students from across disciplines, she also noted education’s rising price tag and that the next generation of Revolutionaries and Monumental Alumni cannot be created without reasonable access and opportunity. While highlighting partnerships with organizations, alumni, and local and federal governments to give critical financial aid to students from across the country, she shared an ambition to do more.

As president, she said, she is committed to finding new and bold ways to make a GW degree a reality for everyone who has the talent, desire and determination that defines the university.

GW Student Association President Arielle Geismar, a senior international affairs major, noted that Granberg’s willingness to do the hard work creating change matches the spirit of the GW student body and expressed her full confidence in GW’s leadership and future.

“President Granberg will not shy away from difficult conversations, and neither will the community of GW, and this way she will always be a revolutionary,” Geismar said. “I have seen her all around campus at countless events. She's available, accessible, interested, amenable and strong.”

To conclude her speech, Granberg proudly acknowledged that GW has educated at least 120 members of Congress, 79 ambassadors, two U.S. secretaries of state and two U.S. attorneys general, as well as countless journalists, judges, CEOs, military and community service members and activists.

But she hopes these impressive numbers are soon updated.

Somewhere at GW, she said, is the next leading scientist, physician or genre-defining artist, and that the university is right now educating the next entrepreneur, global humanitarian or national leader.

As she answered the Board of Trustees’ charge to the be GW’s next president, Granberg repeated that this moment is not about her. It’s about the community coming together to chart a path forward in changing the world through research, service and impact.

“We are a community of Revolutionaries committed to excellence,” Granberg said. “And as a community we will raise higher, together.”