The George Washington University recognized four notable individuals for their contributions to society and raising the standard of excellence and generosity within the university community at the Spirit of GW Awards ceremony Saturday night.
The ceremony and reception, an annual event of GW’s Alumni & Families Weekend, was held this year at Potomac Square with family members and friends of the awardees, alumni, members of the Board of Trustees and university leadership in attendance.
“GW alumni are impacting the world by creating meaningful change in their chosen fields, in their workplaces and in their communities,” GW President Ellen M. Granberg said in her opening remarks. “They exemplify what it means to be a force for good in our society. Tonight, we celebrate the profound impact alumni have on the world, reflect on their incredible journey and acknowledge the important role GW played along the way.”
There are more than 320,000 GW alumni in over 150 countries. The outstanding recipients were selected for honors in four distinct categories.
“All of the award recipients in the room this evening have proven that the possibility of a greater world starts here at GW,” said Patricia Carocci, associate vice president for alumni relations and annual giving. “You’ve shown us what a degree from GW can offer, and you’ve demonstrated the responsibility that comes with access to an institution like ours.”
The honored recipients and their achievement are:
Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award
Joseph Wright, M.P.H. ’94, is considered a visionary in the field of healthcare and equity and was recognized as a distinguished alumni “trailblazer” by Granberg for his promotion of health equity as a national policy and for his approach to care for children impacted by gun violence. The president noted that his accomplishments “brought honor to GW through achievements that reflect the highest standards of quality, excellence and energy.”
Recently named as the chief health equity officer for the American Academy of Pediatrics, Wright has also served as professor and chair of pediatrics at Howard University College of Medicine and in an executive leadership capacity at the GW affiliate, Children’s National Medical Center, as Maryland State Pediatric Medical Director and in numerous other positions in the District of Columbia, regionally and nationally.
In accepting the award, Wright spoke of his journey to public health, through the parable of the man standing by the river who saves a drowning man, only to realize there are more and more victims falling in the river. As the rescuer walks away, he’s asked why he’s leaving and replies, “I’m going up the river to stop people from falling in.”
“That was me 30 years ago when I arrived in Washington,” said Wright, “as a fledgling emergency pediatrician across town at the GW affiliate Children’s National Medical Center. This is what I felt every night encountering families.”
He brought those experiences to GW’s early programs in public health 30 years ago, he said, “thinking about what it would be like to get up the river… act on interventions, what would give me an out to keep me from fishing people out of the river.”
As he prepared for his first address in his new role as chief health equity officer of the American Academy of Pediatrics, he said, “It may sound like a cliche…but this campus is the world.
“GW has an influence not just here in the District of Columbia. I thought about the local, regional and national influence that GW has infused in so many of us alumni and faculty.”
GW Philanthropy Award
Steven V. Roberts, the J.B. and M.C. Shapiro Professor of Media and Public Affairs; columnist, TV and radio analyst, and best-selling author is a beloved GW faculty member who has taught at the university for 33 years. He was recognized as this year’s recipient of the GW Philanthropy Award.
The award is given to an individual, a couple or an organization who has had a significant and inspiring impact on GW and a philanthropic contribution of $1 million or more.
Roberts, the parent of Lee Roberts and GW alumna Rebecca Roberts, M.A. ‘12, who were both in attendance that night, is so beloved, said Donna Arbide, vice president of development and alumni relations that “there’s a table set aside for Roberts at the nearby restaurant, Founding Farmers, where he holds court.” Arbide noted the award was given not only in his honor, but also to commemorate the philanthropic spirit he shared with his late wife, noted journalist Cokie Roberts.
“Steve’s tireless commitment in support of our students both inside and outside the classroom has left an indelible mark on GW,” said Arbide. “He embodies the values of compassion and selflessness, reminding us that education extends far beyond the textbook, filling us with a profound sense of purpose and social responsibility that is frankly timeless.”
The Cokie and Steven Roberts Student Support Fund aids students in SMPA facing financial hardship. In collaboration with a former student, Ted Segal, B.A. ’03, Roberts also set up the Roberts & Segal Fund for Food Security in 2019, providing funding for the Store, a campus food bank that addresses the needs of students facing food security challenges.
In accepting the award, Roberts thanked his GW colleagues for helping shape the idea and his wife for serving as an inspiration. “This award is really for a couple,” he said. “In a long marriage—we were married for 53 years—you learn things from each other. From her, I learned compassion, I learned generosity. She was the most generous person I know.”
“It is very important that we understand as we diversify, bring into this university wonderful, vibrant, vital new voices as students, the immigrant kids, that they blossom and burst forth,” said Roberts. “We can’t end the commitment to new students the day they come to campus. Our commitment has to start on the day they come to campus.”
Recent Alumni Achievement Award
Nassirou Diallo, B.A. ’18, was honored for his unwavering dedication to improving the health of people in West Africa and creating an organization that brings health care, primary medicine and telemedicine to rural Guineans. He is a distinguished member of the Obama Foundation Leaders Africa Program, Echoing Green, and a United Nations social media program, among other recognitions of his leadership.
In just five years after graduating from GW, he pursued and achieved master’s degrees from Oxford University in the United Kingdom and Sciences Po in France. During his tenure as a public policy analyst at Facebook, Diallo helped design and implement programs that nurtured digital literacy and improved the use and availability of the technology throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
This led to his becoming the founder and CEO of Clinic+O, where Diallo developed innovations to provide healthcare, both virtually and in person, for people in remote villages that Associate Professor of Writing Jessica McCaughey noted may have never seen a doctor and would never have access to healthcare without his organization.
“What makes Nassirou a great leader is not just his willingness to listen to other people,” she said, “but his real desire to hear those experiences…whether that is listening to or traveling to rural remote villages in West Africa to really understand the needs of those communities.”
“I think he is truly the ideal GW graduate. He is ambitious. He is sharp. He is really ready to change the world, and he’s taken important steps to do that and really focused his life on serving.”
Diallo’s accomplishments reflect the criteria under which the award is granted, which recognizes graduates of the past 10 years who have made notable achievements in their professional field or voluntary endeavors as an emerging leader.
In accepting the award, Diallo said that he owed much of his success at GW to the kindness, compassion and grace of professors like McCaughey at a time when he feared the work was too hard. He said that she recognized his struggles with a slow computer were hampering his ability to complete assignments and presented him with an Apple computer, “my first and best Apple.”
“My professors’ kindness and compassion turned my struggle into an opportunity. Her gift gave me an equal chance to compete with peers at GW,” Diallo said. “Thank you so much for lifting me up when I needed some help. You are my hero.”
Alumni Outstanding Service Award
Christine Brown-Quinn, M.B.A. ’92, is an international finance expert based in London with an extensive career in advising and promoting women in business. She is the author of “The Female Capitalist” and numerous other best-selling books on business.
In presenting the award that recognizes outstanding and longstanding service to the university, Max Gocala-Nguyen M.A. ’16, president of the GW Alumni Association, said Brown-Quinn exemplifies the spirit of giving back with commitment that is the pride among all alumni.
As a former president of the GW Alumni Association, he said, “[Brown-Quinn] has consistently demonstrated outstanding leadership and spearheaded initiatives that strengthened GW’s network of over 320,000 alumni.”
GW School of Business Dean Anuj Mehrotra noted that Brown-Quinn “is one of the most giving people. She is one of those people who is always finding a way to inspire and to give to the community,” pointing out that she serves on the dean’s advisory and diversity councils.
Brown-Quinn described her journey in volunteer work at GW as part of her transition out of a corporate career in 2015, when she wondered what to do with the next phase of her life. She thought she might do more bicycling but “GW came first,” she said. “I thought it was a great opportunity to give back and recover a profound commitment.”
The invitation to serve on GWSB’s advisory board led to work designing business development courses, forming a GW regional alumni network in London and becoming the GW Alumni Association president.
“I learned that the more I gave, the more I received,” she said. “I learned so much from mentoring and interacting with the students. I felt they were keeping me relevant as a leader. I learned that the GW community was a perfect platform to engage with the world, to feed my intellectual curiosity. Along the way I’ve made wonderful relationships.”