Open letter to President Trachtenberg on Commencement

November 10, 1997Dear President Trachtenberg:

I have lived at the GW for the last three years. I am an ordinary senior, majoring in philosophy. I will graduate on time this May. You have never met me, or anyone like me.

I had many offers from many different colleges as a high school senior. The financial aid packages were significantly better than what you offered me, but I saw the brochures. And the videos. And I was hooked.

trygThrough the coldest Minnesota winter of recent record, I saw Foggy Bottom in spring, with happy coeds swaying to a beat that I had never heard, a spring in their step as they went to class. I saw Hillary Clinton give a Commencement address in the shadow of the White House and I saw happy GW graduates, ready to face the world.

When I arrived here as a freshman, I (as well as many others) wanted to change the world and major in political science. I wanted to have an internship on the Hill. I wanted to be a player in a smoke-filled room.

I wanted to live the life that the brochures you sent me promised. I wanted to live on a diverse campus, where everybody knew my name and I would serve ice cream under a bust of George Washington.

I suffered through my freshman advising workshop with an ill-matched professor. I suffered through my freshman year with an ill-matched suite of roommates in Adams Hall. I stayed quiet when my RA told me she was too busy to answer a problem of mine.

I took the English 11 courses of feminist thinking unharmed. I wrote my Weimar paper and I listened intently when Professor Sodaro berated a roomful of freshmen he alleged could not write.

I received number 2975 out of 3100 when I went through my first housing lottery. I slinked quietly to Mitchell Hall for my sophomore year. I lived in a box all that year. It took 20 minutes to get to the Academic Center for a class.

When my home burned down on Labor Day, 1996, I was not able to pay my tuition bills on time. You told me that you were sorry, but you wanted the money. You told my family that after suffering from such a terrible tragedy, my aid would be increased to compensate for losing everything. You increased my aid by $350.

Now, as a senior, you have told me that you wish to move my graduation to the MCI Center to save money for the good of the University. You tell me that the MCI Center will be a more cost-effective plan for gradation, because of the possible bad weather involved.

As angry as I am right now, I will try to say this as plainly as possible to you: You will not hold graduation any place other than the Ellipse for the class of 1998. Let me tell you why.

My student leadership, no matter how flawed or how impotent it may seem, will fight you. If someone would just lead us, if someone would say “no,” we would rally around them, and we would fight for what we deserve, what you promised us.

If no student leader offers resistance to you, then I will. I will take it upon myself to take away your graduation in your building. I will do everything in my power to make sure it never happens.

Can you afford to take that chance? Can you dismiss me as only one student, a raving idiot? Do you know how much one student can do? I don’t. I know many other students who feel the same. And parents. And alumni. And we will all fight you together.

I am a tolerant man. I will give you the chance to do the right thing and to keep your promise to me, and to your entire student body. I know you can make it happen. But if you don’t, answer one question for me, please: “What if I held graduation in the MCI Center next May and nobody came?”

Perhaps you are a good man at heart, and understand what breaking your promise means to the senior class. Perhaps you can see that after four years of broken promises, I won’t let you break this one. Graduation on the Ellipse. No matter what the cost. Because you owe me.

Sincerely,

Trygve W. OlsenP.S. Have a nice day.

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