Remembering Ismail Ginwala

April 21, 2011

A memorial service will honor the GW junior next week.

By Jennifer Eder

A passion for social justice. An interest in politics. And a unique sense of humor.

These are just some of the things Ismail Ginwala’s family and friends will remember about the 20-year-old GW junior who died in his residence hall last week.

Mr. Ginwala, a student in GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs , was the policy director of the GW Roosevelt Institute – a student organization advocating for progressive change in U.S. and foreign policy.

Mr. Ginwala’s father, Cassim Ginwala, described his son as intellectual and curious about what was happening in the world.

“From a very young age, he was perceptive to the social injustice in the world,” said Cassim, of Chino, Calif., who believes his son developed that interest after traveling to Mexico, India and Africa as a child

“When I had the privilege of meeting Ismail’s father last week, I was deeply moved by his account of how his son really wanted to make a difference in the world,” said GW President Steven Knapp.

An avid reader from an early age, Mr. Ginwala took a special interest in history during high school and graduated as valedictorian. He received a full scholarship to attend GW and was planning to graduate in December.

“He loved GW and enjoyed the opportunity to meet and listen to so many political figures that visited campus,” said Cassim.

When his father asked him why he was working so hard to graduate early, Mr. Ginwala explained that not only did he want to go ahead and start graduate school but he also wanted to give another GW student a chance at his scholarship.

“He told me ‘Another child can receive a GW scholarship if I leave one year early,’” said Cassim. “He wanted to help others.”

Rory Silver, a GW junior and founder of the Roosevelt Institute, first met Mr. Ginwala in the fall of 2009.

“He always put others before himself. He would always be the guy to wish you good luck on your test and quiz you on the spot to make sure you were prepared,” said Mr. Silver, an Elliott School student. “But what I’ll miss the most is his sense of humor. He had a very contagious laugh.”

Sherrill Wells, a part-time faculty member in GW’s Department of History in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said Mr. Ginwala was not only an “excellent student and talented writer but an engaged and informed participant in classroom discussions.”

“His death is a tragic loss not only to his family but to our GW community,” said Ms. Wells.

Mr. Ginwala, who hoped to be an ambassador someday, interned at the Embassy of the Republic of Iraq last semester and passed the U.S. Foreign Service Exam. He also interned for Bill Hedrick, a Democratic nominee for the 44th Congressional District of California in 2008.

“I always thought he would pursue political office one day,” said Mr. Silver. “He had his goals set high.”

But despite his many accomplishments, Mr. Silver said his friend was very humble, as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t tell Mr. Silver he had passed the Foreign Service Exam.

“Ismail had an extraordinary range of interests in international affairs, spanning the world from Asia to Europe to Latin America and the Middle East, and including global issues such as poverty, freedom and equality. Ismail’s teachers and advisers all knew him as an exceptionally engaged student who was also an exceptionally warm, friendly and kind person,” said Michael Brown, Elliott School dean. “Ismail touched and enriched the lives of many people at GW, and we have heard from his family that GW enriched his life as well. On behalf of everyone at GW’s Elliott School of International Affairs, I would like to convey our deepest, heartfelt condolences to Ismail’s family and friends.”

Amish Shah, a GW junior and president of the Roosevelt Institute, described his friend as a logical thinker, who had extensive knowledge about policy. In his role as Roosevelt’s policy director, he helped many GW students develop their ideas and turn them into policy papers.

“He had so much going for him. He was brilliant, and he worked so hard and was so ambitious,” said Mr. Shah, a student in GW’s School of Public Health and Health Services. “But he was also a great friend, very loyal and just a genuine good guy.”

Mr. Ginwala is survived by his father, Cassim; his mother, Luz Ginwala; and his 16-year-old brother, Shahid Ginwala.

A memorial service for Mr. Ginwala will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday April 26 at Square 80, 2135 F St. The entire GW community is invited.

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