Investing in a Vibrant City

The George Washington University makes enormous contributions to the social and economic fabric of the District of Columbia, partnering with the city to enrich the quality of life in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood and beyond. With the rise in the university’s stature, GW is committed to ensuring that the district shares in its success.

Working with our neighbors, GW earned broad-based support for our 20-Year Foggy Bottom Campus Plan to redevelop the former GW Hospital site, into the Avenue, a vibrant gathering place—a model of mixed-use, transit-oriented development. The project’s community amenities include a neighborhood grocery store, public courtyard, pedestrian retail plaza, environmentally friendly design (including more than a half-acre of green-roof components) and affordable housing.

In addition to these physical amenities, GW’s diverse programs enhance the community’s security and emergency-response capabilities, nurture artistic talent and stimulate cultural exchange. We also sponsor major athletic events in 23 intercollegiate sports and provide public affairs seminars both live and on the air. 

A Community of Learning

The George Washington University inspires and nurtures a community of learning, with ten schools and colleges spanning the breadth of scientific and social understanding. Our faculty and students draw upon the city’s rich array of institutions and resources, from the World Bank to the Smithsonian Institution, while giving back to the community through collaboration and professional practice. For example:

  • GW law students train in the school’s nine clinics, advancing the rights of consumers, immigrants, patients and others by taking on cutting-edge and precedent-setting cases.
  • GW’s Center for Excellence in Public Leadership blends academic research with real-world experience as it trains city agency managers and community leaders who advance social progress for the District of Columbia.

GW In & Of D.C.

The George Washington University is an integral part of Washington, D.C., a constant source of innovation, information and energetic community service. Not only do our faculty, staff and students live and work here, many are dedicated to enhancing and improving the quality of life in the city. GW has established unique partnerships with D.C. schools including: Ballou High School, Duke Ellington High School, Eastern High School and The School Without Walls. 

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Government & Community Relations

Our Community

All great cities have great universities. With deep roots in the District of Columbia, the George Washington University is invested in the success and vitality of the Washington metropolitan area and the well-being of its residents. We actively share our resources and cultivate collaboration with the communities surrounding all three of our campuses, including Foggy Bottom, Mount Vernon and our Virginia Science & Technology campuses, enhancing our collective quality of life and advancing our common goals.

Government Relations at GW

The George Washington University’s students, faculty and alumni lend a wealth of intellectual capital to Washington’s policy deliberations, whether they occur in the White House, the U.S. Congress, the D.C. and Virginia governments, the courts or the hundreds of agencies, associations, foundations and think tanks throughout the region. GW infuses Washington’s government-related institutions with its research, experience, human capital and an army of dedicated interns.

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We respect the intellectual property rights of others. If you are an owner of intellectual property and you believe your intellectual property has been improperly posted or distributed via this Web site, please notify us by sending an email to copyright@email.gwu.edu or by sending a notice by U.S. Mail to: 2100 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Suite 250, Washington DC 20052, Attention: Legal Department. In your e-mail or letter, you will need to include all of the notice elements listed in the DMCA at 17 U.S.C. § 512(c)(3). Please be aware that the DMCA makes copyright owners liable if they materially misrepresent that a user's content is infringing.

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Policies

Below are a number of pertinent policies and procedures implemented by GW related to this policy:

  • The George Washington University Privacy Policy Statement
  • Data Classification Security Policy
  • GW Web Content Policy
  • Security Breaches Involving Confidential Personal Information
  • Information Security Policy
  • Health Information Privacy Policy
  • Privacy of Student Records Policy
  • Social Security Number and GWid Usage Policy

Additional University policies may be found at www.policy.gwu.edu.

Contact

If you have any questions regarding this policy or GW’s websites generally, please contact us at comments@gwu.edu.

Commencement Videos 2008

GW Board of Trustees Chairman W. Russell Ramsey's Commencement Remarks GW Alumni Association President Richard Crespin's Commencement Remarks
Mike McConnell's Commencement Remarks Student Speaker Sarah Ray's Commencement Remarks
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond's Commencement Remarks Christine Handy's Commencement Remarks
Sen. Daniel Inouye's Commencement Remarks  

 

Interfaith Baccalaureate Service Remarks

President Steven Knapp
Interfaith Baccalaureate Service
Washington, DC
May 16, 2008

Good afternoon. I would like to thank Nicole Capp for so kindly inviting me, on behalf of the Student Association, to participate in this important tradition and to share my thoughts with you on the eve of Commencement weekend.

This is a rare opportunity to pause for a moment, in the life of a very busy university, to reflect together on how far we have come and where we are going. It’s a chance to step back and to see our lives in a much broader perspective, a perspective made possible by the tradition of faith or of life philosophy that each of us carries but that is hard to keep in mind as we dive into our studies, prepare to teach our classes, or take on the challenging problems of functioning as a complex institution in a vital urban setting.

As I thought about what to say this afternoon, my mind kept returning to the image of a person whose every action is pervaded by faith – faith of an unusually powerful but, for many of us, unfamiliar kind. It was my privilege to spend an entire evening at dinner with this person. Actually, it’s a bit misleading to say that I spent the evening with him, because that implies a somewhat intimate setting. Although I did sit next to him – the kind of thing you get to do as a university president -- we were in the company of more than 600 other people in a very large room, the atrium of the National Building Museum. The occasion was the fifth annual gala for the GW Cancer Institute, and my friend for the evening was there to receive a well-deserved honor, the Cancer Compassion Award, which goes each year to someone “who has exemplified devotion to improving access to and quality of care among medically underserved communities.” The honoree, my dinner companion, was South African Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

Bishop Tutu was no stranger to GW; in fact, in 1999 he received an honorary degree and gave the speech at that year’s Commencement. I had met him once before, more than 20 years ago, when he visited California during his ultimately successful campaign to end the South African system of racial segregation known as “apartheid,” and I was leading a coalition of churches and synagogues responding to the needs of refugees from the terrible wars that were then underway in Central America.

Desmond Tutu, who will be 77 this October and is currently battling his second recurrence of prostate cancer, has led a remarkable life. He began his life in 1931, in a black ghetto in the South African town of Klerksdorp, where his father was a schoolmaster and where his brothers all died in childhood, although two sisters survived. When he was 12 years old, his family moved to the deeply segregated city of Johannesburg. His passion for education, and in particular his love of Shakespeare, was ignited by a black high school teacher English teacher whose name he still recalls, Geoff Mamabulu. He also recalls being inspired by the achievements of African Americans who were just beginning to receive international notice – people like the athletes Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis and the musicians Fats Waller and Lena Horne. At the age of 12, he contracted tuberculosis, but somehow survived. He studied to be a teacher, taught for awhile at his old high school, then quit when the South Government passed new legislation designed to enforce a permanent state of inferiority for what was called “Bantu,” meaning black, education. It was at that point that he entered the priesthood of the Anglican Church, studying theology in South Africa and England, and eventually rising to position of Bishop of Lesotho and later Archbishop of Capetown, which made him the first black African to become the head of the Anglican Church in South Africa.

In 1984, Desmond Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work as a non-violent leader of the movement to end apartheid, although everyone at the time, including him, knew that the prize was really intended for the movement as a whole. He responded with a moving and gracious speech that called not for reconciliation and peace. When apartheid finally did come to an end, South Africa’s first post-apartheid president, Nelson Mandela, asked the Archbishop to lead a truly amazing process of collective confession and forgiveness as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His work has been credited with helping South Africa avoid the bloody revenge and that could easily have followed so many decades of violent oppression by a white minority that was only 20% of the population and was now at the mercy of the vastly larger black majority. For three years, victims of apartheid were given an opportunity to recount their experiences; at the same time, perpetrators of torture, assassination, and other atrocities who came forward to confess their crimes were granted amnesty.

Here is what Desmond Tutu said, in a 2004 interview, about what he learned from his role as head of the Commission:

I have come to realize the extraordinary capacity for evil that all of us have because we have now heard the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and there have been revelations of horrendous atrocities that people have committed. Any and every one of us could have perpetrated those atrocities. The people who were perpetrators of the most gruesome things didn’t have horns, didn’t have tails. They were ordinary human beings like you and me. That’s the one thing. Devastating! But the other, more exhilarating than anything that I have ever experienced – and something I hadn’t expected – to discover that we have an extraordinary capacity for good. People who suffered untold misery, people who should have been riddled with bitterness, resentment and anger come to the Commission and exhibit an extraordinary magnanimity and nobility of spirit in their willingness to forgive, and to say, “Hah! Human beings actually are fundamentally good.” The aberration, in fact, is the evil one, for God created us ultimately for God, for goodness, for laughter, for joy, for compassion, for caring. [i]

Many, and for all I know most, of those gathered here today do not share Desmond Tutu’s Christian faith, or perhaps any kind of specifically religious faith at all. Many of you might not agree with all his other opinions; in fact, he has been in many ways a controversial figure, regarded by some, despite his nonviolence, as too extreme in his support of black African liberation, by others as not extreme enough. His views on world issues outside South Africa have also been criticized as often as they have been praised. It is not my aim this afternoon to convert you, either to his faith or to his politics. But there is something about him that I would like you at least to think about, something that, in my experience, is characteristic of many people of deep faith, no matter what tradition they belong to.

If you ask Desmond Tutu today what he thinks about his country, whether he thinks his nonviolent revolution really succeeded – and it may be impolite to do so in a dinner conversation, but I asked him nonetheless – he becomes very quiet, very thoughtful, and then answers that the outcome has been a mixture of good and bad. Legal segregation is gone, democracy has arrived, and the country is no longer ruled by a tiny minority. But the country has been terribly devastated by HIV/AIDS, costing many, many lives that never should have ended so tragically early. He has often disagreed with the position his government has taken – most publicly, in recent years, its toleration of the abuses of human rights in the neighboring country of Zimbabwe. He looks at all these flaws with complete and sober realism.

And yet you have already heard, in what I quoted from the interview, his message of irrepressible optimism and hope. In my experience, it is generally those with the deepest faith who can manage such a combination of realism, such a full appreciation of the depth of human evil, with so frank and unembarrassed attitudes of optimism and hope.

But even more than hope, even more than optimism: what radiates when you meet him from every inch of this small, aging, and seemingly rather frail human being is something harder to describe, something I recognized, in fact, from a meeting several years ago with the Dalai Lama. I may be an English teacher, but I have still found myself struggling to find the right word to describe his quality. It’s a word you don’t hear much nowadays, probably because the quality it describes is hard to capture in soundbites or video clips, although you feel it instantly when you’re in its presence. Archbishop Tutu pointed to it indirectly when, in the interview I just quoted, he included “laughter” and “joy” among the things for which, he says, God created us.

The quality I’m trying to isolate, I think, is mirth. It’s related to happiness, and also to that familiar talent what we call a “sense of humor.” But it’s something rarer, something you prize when you meet it, something that gives you, whether you’re religious or not, a sense of awe at the sheer vitality, the deep inner resources, of certain very special human beings.

Here are some ways to recognize it. A person of mirth takes pleasure, or more exactly takes joy, in the sheer presence of other human beings. A person of mirth regards other persons as objects of wonder, fascinating mysteries, and seems to enjoy the mere thought of their existence. But such a person also takes joy, also rejoices, in the sheer presence and mystery of him or herself.

In fact, the surest sign that you are in the presence of a person of mirth like Desmond Tutu is the strangely infectious way he has of laughing at his own jokes. That’s supposed to be annoying, a sign of bad taste or insecurity, and generally it is annoying and embarrassing when someone laughs too loudly or too long at his or her own jokes. But the self-directed laughter of a mirthful person is not annoying; it’s endearing, infectious, and it has a lingering effect. It conveys an impression of overflowing life, life in abundance; and more than almost any effect I can think of that one human being can have upon others, it engenders those feelings of hope and optimism that make it bearable, for people of every faith, to live in a world of so much violence, so much injustice, so much atrocity.


So let me pray, on this occasion of interfaith prayer and reflection, that each of you, as you go out into the world, will have many opportunities to meet, and to be moved and changed by meeting, those special people who seek justice and peace and wholeness for all humankind; who do so even while knowing and never forgetting the depth of human evil: people who know how to laugh at their own jokes, and who can do so because their very souls are overflowing with an inexhaustible inner life that shows itself forth as mirth. Amen.

[i] Desmond Tutu, Academy of Achievement Website, June 12, 2004

Commencement Remarks--Senator Daniel Inouye

U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, J.D. '52
Commencement Address
The George Washington University Law School
Washington, DC
Sunday, May 18, 2008

A week ago, I spent four hours watching the first four chapters of HBO’s special documentary on John Adams. I did this to remind myself of the pain, anxiety, and sacrifices that our founding fathers had to endure for an idea. For this idea, they were willing to give up their lives, their families, and their fortunes.

They were told by the powerful king of one of the then most powerful nations of the world, Great Britain, that they would be hanged by their necks to their death if they followed their intended course. Yet they proceeded.

I was mesmerized by the scene of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin debating the text of the Declaration of Independence. This Declaration with its key sentence of 35 words has been an important part of my life since my early youth. I have found myself thinking of those 35 words in my mind during difficult moments of decision-making: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Our founding fathers adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, knowing very well that to do so meant immediate death upon capture, the destruction of their families, and the confiscation of their properties. But they did so.

They bravely took to heart their Declaration, knowing it could not be realistically applied at that moment. This was a long-term problem that would take generations. After adopting the Declaration, ironically, these historic figures left Philadelphia to return to their homes, their farms, and their shops, and they were greeted and served by their African slaves upon their return.

In their hearts of hearts, our founding fathers knew that slavery was wrong. But they were also sadly aware that the people of this new land were not quite ready to accept slaves as persons who were created equally.

The 35 words that comprise the heart of the Declaration of Independence have been read, re-read, tested, condemned, and acclaimed. Nearly 80 years after the founding of our nation, these 35 words were once again put to an important test. It was a test that culminated in the War Between the States, a war in which so many thousands – for both the Union and Confederacy – gave their lives for their beliefs.

Then nearly eight decades later, these 35 words were once again attacked and put to the test. The time was World War II, and I was part of that World War II generation. Two weeks after December 7, 1941, a regulation by our government proclaimed that my father, who had traveled with his parents at the age of 3 to a Hawaii plantation; my mother, who was born in a Hawaii plantation village and whose parents toiled in plantation fields; together with my sister, two brothers, and countless cousins, were declared to be among those unfit to be Americans.

Moreover, some of our friends and cousins who lived on the West Coast of the United States were given 24-hour notice to abandon their homes and farms. They were told to take only their belongings that they could carry with them. They were sent to 10 desolate, far-off places, where they were confined in camps ringed by barbed wire and guard towers whose guns pointed inward. Our government called these facilities concentration camps. Approximately 120,000 Japanese Americans spent part of their lives there, and some remained there until the end of World War II. From these camps, hundreds of Japanese Americans volunteered to fight and die for their country, which had incarcerated them without cause, and for only one reason: that they shared the ancestry of our enemies, the Japanese.

For Japanese Americans, our official designation was 4-C – enemy alien. For many of us, the impact of that label was personal, and an affront to our patriotism. We felt we had to demonstrate our loyalty and Americanism to the land of our birth.

We petitioned the government to let us volunteer, and enter into combat with the enemy – even if it meant fighting our cousins in Japan. Eventually, we were allowed to serve in a segregated unit. This unit has the distinction of being the most decorated unit of its size in the history of the U.S. Army.

To the glory of our country, 43 years after the end of World War II, our nation, by legislative and presidential approval, acknowledged the wrong that was committed to this segment of its citizenry during the early days of the conflict, and formally apologized. What other nation would have done that – admit a wrongful act?

It was a proud moment in my life to have our nation find the courage to admit to a wrong and apologize.

In less than a generation after World War II, the heart of the Declaration of Independence – those key 35 words – were again put to a test. It was a test in which our nation saw bloody demonstrations in the streets. People were killed, and cities were torched. Even our beloved leaders were assassinated. But we passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and in doing so we acknowledged that those 35 words were not only important, but correct.

I believe those words are once again being tested. And they are being tested both at home and abroad.

In our land of democracy, equality, and plenty, there are millions of citizens who cannot afford health care, and our economy is faltering for a growing number of Americans. The increasing cost of gas puts a crunch on family budgets. Far from home, we are once again involved in an unpopular war, a war that is seemingly opposed by much of the young men and women of our nation. These challenges at home and abroad make it very difficult to bring the people of our nation together.

But, members of the Class of 2008, it will be you and your generation that will carry the flag through this time of challenge. You will have the opportunity to take those 35 words, and make them more of a reality for our fellow citizens.

I know that at my age, I do not have many years left to fight the good fight. So I envy you. You have the opportunity to step forward, and take some important steps to advance the words of Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Washington, and our other founding fathers. I hope some of you will seriously consider public service. Through you, we can make life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness much more of a reality.

As you and your generation take your first steps forward to positions of leadership and influence, we are at a moment in history when we could soon have a president of African American heritage. And it wasn’t many years ago when racial discrimination was still legal, even though the Civil War ended slavery. Racism is still alive, but we are moving forward.

I still remember from my law school days of learning of the grief of a GW Ph.D. faculty member – a white woman – who was married to an American Samoan who held a Ph.D. They could not live in Virginia because of that state’s miscegenation law. Today, miscegenation laws are unconstitutional and banned. Another sign of progress.

And we also have the possibility of having a woman as president. It was only 88 years ago that American women gained, through legislative and presidential action, the right to vote. This is a significant step forward.

We also have a man in the presidential race who wore our nation’s uniform. He served our country, and his service included five-and-a-half torturous years in a dungeon in Hanoi. His service reflected a commitment to those important 35 words of the Declaration of Independence.

To the Class of 2008, I congratulate you for your hard work that has led to this special moment. Savor it.

I wish all of you well. I also wish you will always hold close to your heart that document that defines our great nation, and its most important 35 words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

God bless you, and Gold bless America.