Cornerstone Events

Freshman Convocation
Freshman Convocation

Shared experiences and traditions are essential to preserving our strong sense of pride and community at GW. Over time, a series of hallmark events have become indispensable components of the GW experience. Most of these events are tied to the academic schedule. Others are linked to spirit and athletic programs. Some are connected to our legacy of service in Washington, D.C. And a few are just for fun.

Colonial Inauguration (CI)

Colonial Inauguration, GW’s award-winning undergraduate orientation program welcomes incoming freshmen and transfer students to the GW family. It acquaints them with our academics, campus services, opportunities and community – in short, to life at GW. CI is an experience the whole family can enjoy, with age-appropriate activities tailored for students, their parents and even younger siblings.

Freshman Convocation

Led by the GW’s president and faculty, this event is the official kick-off for new students beginning their university adventure in the nation’s capital. This annual tradition marks the official start of the academic year.

Welcome Week

Welcome Week is a series of social, recreational, cultural and artistic programs offered during the first week of fall semester. Winter Welcome Week marks the beginning of the spring semester.

Colonials Weekend

In October each year, this celebration for students, alumni, family and friends features a weekend of events and world-class entertainment. Past performers include Jerry Seinfeld, Robin Williams, Billy Crystal and the Beach Boys. Colonials Weekend participants can see shows, take part in campus activities, attend lectures, explore the city and visit with their student in their new home away from home.

Latino Heritage Celebration

This month-long celebration honors the diversity within the Latino community. People of all races and ethnicities have an opportunity immerse themselves in Hispanic cultural events, food, dancing, music and lectures. The celebration runs from mid-September to mid-October.

Spirit Week and Colonials Invasion

In mid-October, the campus community unites to celebrate the start of the men’s and women’s basketball season. A series of special events marks the Colonials Invasion, culminating with a special-effects show that introduces our students to their teams. Spirit Week and Colonials Invasion also give coaches a chance to rally fan support for the upcoming season.

Fall Fest

The GW Program Board sponsors this student-run weekend event in September. Outdoor games, a barbecue and live music are part of the festivities.

Martin Luther King Jr., Celebration (MLK) and Black History Month

Martin Luther King Jr., Day of Service (“a day on rather than a day off”) is a nationally recognized community-service event that coincides with the King holiday. It is an important occasion at GW, where some 250 students are involved in projects that serve our neighbors and the D.C. community. The MLK Award is the highest honor a student can achieve for humanitarian service. The celebration of King’s life and a ceremony in his honor take place in late January.

Arts Fest and Chalk-In

Students’ artistic talents are on display at this April celebration. Some students dance, sing and perform while others take part in additional creative activities. H Street is closed to traffic during the fest, opening the way for students to draw on the street and sidewalks with chalk – a great stress reliever as exams approach!

Grad Week

For a week leading up to graduation, seniors participate in a series of special events. Past Grad Week activities have included excursions to Atlantic City, trips to a Baltimore Orioles game, and the Senior Toast.


Commencement is a signal event for members of the GW community. While each school holds its own ceremony, an all-GW graduation ceremony unfolds on the National Mall within sight of the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol.

Alumni Weekend

Alumni Weekend, a three-day weekend event keeps GW alumni informed about the University and involved in its activities. The GW Alumni Association sponsors the weekend, which is enlivened by entertainment, speakers, social gatherings and class reunions. Alumni reconnect with friends, participate in campus activities, revisit old haunts and marvel over GW’s changes and growth. Alumni Weekend is unequaled when comes to strengthening alumni bonds.

George Washington’s Birthday Celebration

This event to mark the birth of GW’s namesake began in 1999. The rousing celebration kicks off with a march to the Quad, followed by Colonial refreshments, speeches and a bonfire – rain or shine.

White Coat Ceremony

At the School of Medicine’s fall convocation, first-year medical students are given a white coat, a symbol of their new status and a tangible recognition of the challenging academic journey they have embraced.

Midnight Breakfast

During final exams in the fall, faculty and administrators serve a midnight breakfast to students as a reward for their hard work. This GW tradition also includes games and activities for students taking study breaks.


This annual family event on the Mount Vernon campus coincides with Colonials Weekend. Named for the traditional German fall festival, Octoberfest features music, pumpkin carving, arts and crafts, games, fall desserts, family competitions, photo opportunities, contests and much more.

Spring Fling

A nationally known performer is one of the big draws to this end-of-academic-year celebration sponsored by the Mount Vernon campus. Great food, amusements and tie dying also keep the crowds busy.

Jumpstart for a Day

Local preschoolers turn out for a day of fun and games during this annual community event. GW student organizations, fraternities and sororities play a big part in the day, which is designed to encourage a love of learning.

Mount Vernon Community Day

This is a day when students and their neighbors in the community come together. They celebrate fall with trick-or-treating in the residence halls, they cheer on the Colonials soccer team and they catch a film in Eckles Auditorium.

Films on the Vern

Every summer, films are shown on the big outdoor screen at the Quad on the Mount Vernon campus. This movie tradition gives members of the GW community and neighbors of the GW campuses a weekly opportunity to meet while enjoying classic cinema.

Senior Prom

Hosted by students in the Neighbors Project, the university student community sponsors a night of dinner and dancing for Washington, D.C., senior citizens.

GW Inaugural Ball

Every four years, GW marks the Jan. 20 inauguration of a new U.S. president and vice president by hosting a black-tie event. The ball is a University highlight for students and a “uniquely GW” celebration.

University Publications

GW produces a range of publications, including award-winning magazines and newspapers. These publications communicate the university’s mission, initiatives and campus news to internal and external audiences.

In addition to publications targeted at a university-wide audience, many of GW’s schools, departments and institutes publish for specialized audiences. GW students also produce a number of publications aimed primarily at their peers.

George Washington Today

GW’s flagship publication, George Washington Today provides breaking news; the latest headlines; in-depth articles about campus activities, academic programs and research initiatives; profiles of students, staff, alumni and faculty; and a wealth of other news and information affecting the GW community.

GW Magazine

GW Magazine is GW’s flagship alumni and University periodical, published each spring and fall. The magazine has a circulation of 200,000.

GW Research Magazine

GW Research magazine is published annually. It highlights the University’s research endeavors. The magazine has a circulation of 15,000.

Student Publications

The GW Hatchet, the award-winning student newspaper, has a tradition that reaches back to 1904, and the Cherry Tree, GW’s yearbook, celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2008.  Students also produce the literary and arts magazines Wooden Teeth and the G.W. Review.  Read more about Student Publications.

Sports & Spirit

Sports and Spirit

GW sports and spirit traditions arise from the enthusiasm stirred by athletic competition and the loyalty we feel for our 23 NCAA Division I teams. Because they are emotional in origin, GW spirit traditions tend to be held very deeply and expressed strongly by students, alumni, season ticket holders, and the loyal faculty and staff who cheer for our Colonials.

Sports and spirit traditions are part of daily life for students. For alumni, they spark fond memories and serve as a bridge back to their university years. And for college sports fans in Washington – and beyond – they shape an image of the university.

Following a vote by the student body in 1928, the GW sports teams became known as the Colonials. Nearly immediately, GW’s spirit traditions began to surface. They started with school colors, symbols and mascots. Musical traditions emerged, notably the “Alma Mater” and the “GW Fight Song.” Then organized spirit groups formed around the Colonials. They include the cheer and dance teams, the pep band and, more recently, the Colonial Army. Many of the university’s cornerstone events are explicitly tied to spirit traditions, especially Spirit Week, Colonial Invasion and Colonials Weekend.

Students can add their spirit to Colonials sports by attending games on our Foggy Bottom campus, in the newly renovated Charles E. Smith Center, or on the lacrosse, soccer and softball fields of our Mount Vernon campus. A valid GWorld card allows students to support their team at all home games free of charge.


Seal, Mace & Coat of Arms

GW’s seal, the University mace and our coat of arms serve as important visual symbols of the University’s heritage and prestige. In particular, they celebrate our connection to the vision, character and persona of George Washington.

University Seal

The seal of The George Washington University is used to identify and endorse diplomas and other official documents. The two-inch-diameter seal bears an image of George Washington based on a well-known painting by Gilbert Stuart. An open Bible shows a verse from the gospel of St. John, in Greek. The seal is encircled with a double ring, in azure, carrying the words “the George Washington University, 1821.”

University Mace

A mace, or staff, is carried by a dignitary at official events to mark the power and prestige of an institution. At Commencement and other GW ceremonies, our University marshal carries the University mace. It represents the standing of the University and the power of higher education as a force for good. The University mace was created by Harry Irving Gates, associate professor of sculpture, and was presented by the Faculty Women’s Club of The George Washington University. A profile of George Washington is displayed on the mace’s flanges.

The Coat of Arms

The Colonial Coat of Arms is a unique symbol of GW’s heritage. Great Britain’s York Herald of Arms presented it to the University at GW’s 1997 Commencement ceremony. The coat of arms shows George and Martha Washington holding a heraldic shield beneath a cupola that symbolizes Mount Vernon, Washington's home. The shield itself bears three stars and two stripes, emblems from the armorial bearings of Washington's family. Other elements, such as the brick walkway and roses, refer to more modern GW traditions.

Visiting Campus

Download maps of our campuses as a guide to classroom space, residence halls and other campus landmarks.

Foggy Bottom Campus Map
Mount Vernon Campus Map


Athletics & Recreation

Varsity Sports

The University’s lively athletics program, with teams often in the NCAA spotlight, contributes immeasurably to the GW experience, school spirit and community pride. It also raises GW’s national profile. To join one of our 23 varsity sports as an athlete or student team manager is a special opportunity. Our coaches are committed to the University's belief in a well-rounded student athlete. That means athletes work hard to achieve intellectual development, maintain high academic standards and practice good citizenry in our community.

Club & Intramural Sports

Many GW students want to stay active while in college, but without the commitment to participation in a varsity sport. Club and intramural sports enable students to reap the health and wellness benefits of athletic competition (not to mention the fun), while remaining focused on academics and other aspects of life at GW.

Spirit Groups

GW has a long tradition of students organizing to create and express school spirit focused around our athletic teams. The excitement and involvement that are driven by athletics carry over into other aspects of student life, imbuing the GW community with a sense of pride in and loyalty to the George Washington University as an institution. This spirit is transmitted to neighbors in the Washington region, and sometimes to national audiences, building positive perceptions of GW. Some of our spirit groups, like the Cheer Team and Dance Team are themselves opportunities for athletic-related activities. Learn more at the GW Spirit Program website.

Fans & Supporters

Fans and supporters, If you're in town, swing by the newly renovated Charles E. Smith Center and our other venues to cheer on your Colonials. General tickets are available, in addition to special fan clubs.

Academic Life

At GW, students’ academic life is rich. They have opportunities to engage in research at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, and their interaction with professors is lively and thoughtful. Our professors, often world-renowned experts in their fields, teach against the backdrop of our nation’s capital, a city rich in intellectual resources, as they empower the next generation of leaders. Courses unfold in large lecture halls, small classes, seminars and experiential learning initiatives. 

Our 9,500 full-time undergraduates study in more than 72 majors across the spectrum of business, engineering, international affairs, communications and media, sciences, math, social sciences, arts, languages and the humanities. At the graduate level, GW offers more than 200 programs. Although graduate students undertake their studies through one of GW’s ten colleges and schools, they have many opportunities for interdisciplinary study.

The university is proud of its state-of-the-art facilities, including a capital markets trading room at the School of Business and multimedia lecture halls at the Elliott School of International Affairs. Most classrooms have wireless access.

With more than 2 million titles, Gelman, GW’s flagship library, is a source of information and inspiration. GW also belongs to the Washington Research Library Consortium, providing students with access to more than 7.5 million volumes in the libraries of eight area universities.

GW aims to educate citizens who enthusiastically take on the challenges of life in a global, technological society. Our professors dedicate themselves to both the subjects they love and teaching the core intellectual capabilities that last a lifetime.

The first of these core skills is critical thinking, the foundation of undergraduate education. The University Writing Program, the Dean’s Seminars in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the Women’s Leadership Program and undergraduate classes across GW’s schools and colleges aim to teach students to think analytically, to solve complex problems and to challenge the status quo. 

Quantitative reasoning is the second important skill GW seeks to impart to all undergraduates. Quantitative reasoning embraces a wide range of subjects in math and science but also reaches beyond to economics and psychology. GW students gain essential knowledge as well as key skills that equip them to meet the challenges of living in our complex, technological and rapidly changing world.

GW also believes in educating students to think globally. We encourage our students to learn a second language, to study diverse cultures and to explore our study abroad options. Knowledge of other countries, cultures and languages opens doors in life.  In the 2010-2011 academic year we sent more than 1,800 students abroad to 81 different countries. The university also presents multicultural and international points of view across its curriculum.

At the graduate level, GW’s programs merge theory and practice. Graduate students participate in high-level research across a wide spectrum of disciplines, including the arts and sciences, engineering, political studies, business, human development, international affairs, law and medicine.

Visiting Campus

University Yard Photo

We have been welcoming campus visitors for almost 190 years. Prospective students, families, faculty and professionals who are exploring career opportunities, those seeking treatment in our medical center and attendees at seminars, conferences and other events all find a warm welcome at GW.

Washington, D.C., is accessible and easy to get around, with an array of affordable lodging located near the university and a multitude of dining options on and off campus. With its cultural venues, historical sites and vibrant social life, D.C. is a magnet for visitors from around the world. The university is an integral part of the District of Columbia and no visit to GW is complete without sampling the offerings of its city.

We've Made It Easy for You to Explore GW Before You Visit!

Our new Virtual Tour allows you to navigate the university’s campuses and Washington, D.C., while learning more about the university's facilities and history.

The Virtual Tour website offers multiple ways to interact with three separate maps: the Foggy Bottom Campus, the Mount Vernon Campus and downtown D.C. A map of the Virginia Science and Technology Campus is coming soon.

The Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon maps show renderings of every building on campus. Explore building descriptions, photographs, a list of related links, a feed of events and real-time Twitter updates. Some buildings, such as Gelman Library and the Marvin Center, also feature videos created exclusively for the virtual tour.

Users can also navigate on the maps through a list of buildings or tour topics, such as “Academics and Research,” “Student Life” and “Community Service.” The Virtual Tour has “layers” that highlight different spots on campus. The "sustainability" layer shows where bike racks, water bottle fillers and CarShare spots are located, and the "residential" layer makes it easy to see where residence halls are in relation to other campus buildings. An optional “GW Highlights” function sends users through a guided tour of 10 hot spots on campus, with a bonus stop that shows places to visit off campus.

Prepare for your visit by exploring our campuses online now!


The George Washington University’s leadership team—composed of the board of trustees, president, provost, vice presidents, deans and department chairs—manages day-to-day operations at the university and is firmly committed to ensuring a top-quality educational experience for GW students.  View the leadership organizational chart (pdf).

Chairman RamseyBoard of Trustees

The George Washington University is governed by a board of trustees, which has overall legal and fiduciary responsibility for the university.  The board works with the leadership team of the university comprised of the president, provost, vice presidents, deans and department chairs.  All are firmly committed to ensuring a top-quality educational experience for GW students. The current chair of the Board of Trustees is Nelson A. Carbonell, Jr., a 1985 alumnus of the university.

President Knapp

Office of the President

Steven Knapp became the sixteenth president of the George Washington University in August 2007.  His priorities include enhancing the university’s partnerships with neighboring institutions, expanding the scope of its research, strengthening its worldwide community of alumni, enlarging its students’ opportunities for public service, and leading its transformation into a model of urban sustainability.

Provost Lerman

Office of the Provost

The provost of The George Washington University is the chief academic officer for the 10 colleges and schools. The deans of the colleges and schools report to the provost. In addition, the provost oversees all programs and offices associated with student life and learning and serves as second-in-command of the university. The current provost is Steven R. Lerman, who has more than 35 years experience in higher education.

Vice Presidents

Vice presidents collectively oversee the George Washington University’s vast infrastructure, providing senior leadership and strategic vision across all aspects of GW life. Vice presidents are appointed by and report directly to the president.


The dean of each school serves as its chief administrative officer and is responsible to the president through the vice president for academic affairs. Deans serve at the pleasure of the president, provided they retain the confidence of their faculty.

Department Chairs

The chair of a department serves as the communications channel for all regular business between the faculty of the department and the University’s administration. Department chairs are appointed by the Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, acting on nominations from the department that are recommended by the dean of the school.

University Offices & Staff

The George Washington University is the largest institution of higher education in the nation’s capital. More than 6,000 faculty members, administrators and support personnel keep the university’s wheels turning.



Traditions are an important part of GW's culture, enriching daily life and cultivating pride within our community. Our oldest traditions date back to 1904 when Columbian College became The George Washington University. With the adoption of its new name, GW embraced a rich array of customs and symbols complementing the University's character and vision. Today, many of our traditions incorporate the legends and lore linked to our namesake, President George Washington.

Over time, diversity and a broadening range of student interests have brought additional traditions that are shared by faculty, staff and alumni. Old and new, these are celebrated through athletics, student organizations, spirit groups, University publications and hallmark events. Campus landmarks, including the Tempietto, brick walkways, University Gates, busts of George Washington and the lovable bronze hippo, join the traditions, helping GW to leave an indelible mark on its charming neighborhood in the nation’s beautiful city of monuments.