By B.L. Wilson
Invoking a theme of “an engaged, inclusive and intellectual community,” George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc officially welcomed the more than 2,800 incoming students filling the seats at the Convocation ceremony Saturday in the Charles E. Smith Center.
“Engaged communities have a special responsibility to advocate for change they believe in and to make a difference on concerns both big and small,” he told an enthusiastic audience.
Dr. LeBlanc said he wanted them to think about the big concerns that they and the country now face.
“We are in the midst of multiple pandemics—COVID-19; social, economic and racial injustices; climate change; disinformation campaigns; divisiveness in national discourse,” he said. “These challenges—and others—are bigger than any one of us, and they require not just our awareness but also our active and unwavering commitment to making a difference.”
It was a remarkable achievement he noted that they were able to gather “not behind a screen, not in two dimensions, but as three-dimensional beings in the real physical world here in person. Let that sink in,” he said.
A procession of GW faculty and administrators in academic regalia marched into the athletic center to a musical performance by the Potomac Brass Quartet led by professor Mike Schmitz, director of bands and music lecturer in the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design, followed by a student quartet singing the national anthem and a presentation of the colors by the GW Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps.
The Class of ‘25 was greeted by Christopher Alan Bracey, GW’s interim provost, executive vice president for academic affairs and professor of law, to a formal start of their academic careers at GW, “taking up the mantle of inquisitive, passionate scholarship in a long line of great scholars at this institution.”
Incoming students filled the Smith Center for Convcation 2021.
He said it is expected that they will take advantage of all that the university has to offer, such as its state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories and research facilities, and that students should realize their promise of academic excellence but countered that that is not what distinguishes a GW education. “That is the simplest part,” he said.
“What distinguishes a GW education… and you,” he said, “is how you decide to transform the world with the knowledge you gain in the classroom, and how you make your mark on the world with your own perspective, personality and flair. This is GW’s contribution to the world – arming you with the skills and insight to transform the world with your leadership, actions and ideas.”
He touched on ways in which GW students have through the years made an impact on the world, including participation in the Civil Rights movement, with support for Black and minority students and the founding of the Multicultural Student Services Center in 1968; holding on campus sit-ins to protest the Vietnam War; and more recently, attending marches and rallies around the country and worldwide in response to incidents of racism and discrimination.
“Today, as a new GW student, you are committing to honor this legacy,” said Mr. Bracey.
GW student Louie Kahn a senior political communication and political science major, acknowledged the loss and challenges many in the audience faced in completing the past school year to get to GW.
“Online school made the challenge of authentic connection with high school teachers and peers next to impossible,” said Mr. Kahn. “We endured the loss of loved ones, colleagues and friends because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“No matter what obstacles lay in your way,” he said, “you made it. You’re here.”
He offered several pointers for becoming a successful GW student, including strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know; be yourself; try new things. Visit your professors during office hours; get involved in the District of Columbia beyond Foggy Bottom; and be open to working with and learning from others.
“When you are admitted to GW, the person reading your application saw something unique and special in each of you,” Mr. Kahn said. “Show us what that is. It will take a village to conquer the multitude of challenges facing our world today. Be a part of that solution.”
In concluding the ceremony, Dr. LeBlanc singled out for particular concern “the ongoing reckoning with race in our country and what we do individually and as a community to address it that will continue to define us in coming years.”
He spoke of the mindsets and beliefs that are unacceptable as GW strives to be an inclusive community.
“In this community, we condemn hatred, including racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, ethnic and cultural discrimination, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “They are antithetical to the community we are building here.”
Dr. LeBlanc said GW needs to work every day toward becoming a more inclusive community. He also urged students to seek support from the many resources, faculty, and staff who are available to help during the significant transition period in students’ lives.
“Please remember to take care of yourself and others,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “We are here for you.”