GW celebrated the birthday of its namesake and the 61st anniversary of GW’s chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa honor society with a ceremony and bonfire on the Quad Monday.
The event began on 22nd Street with a dedication of the Phi Beta Kappa stone by the society’s Executive Director Doug Ford and GW President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. Then a fife and drum band and a flag bearer led a procession to the Quad, where a bonfire was lit by a lantern from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate.
The festivities on the Quad included comments from an actor portraying Washington, Trachtenberg and University Historian Peter P. Hill, and food and drink from Washington’s era.
“The purpose of the event is to increase awareness of the connection between the man, what he believed in, what he stood for and the University,” said Jim Hess, director of University Special Events.
Phi Beta Kappa is the oldest national honor society, and the GW chapter was the first in Washington, D.C. GW’s chapter was founded Feb. 22, 1938. Remarks at the dedication of the plaque and stone revolved around the evolution of education at GW since its founding in 1821.
“I think it’s terrific,” Trachtenberg said of the birthday celebration. “I don’t think we’ve had one on campus since the ’40s . We’re George Washington University – we ought to do a little more than the average place to celebrate his birthday.”
Hess said when the University held its 175th anniversary festivities in 1996, a connection was made between a cupola on top of the Mount Vernon estate and the cupola on top of Stockton Hall. Hess said the light holds the spirit of George Washington at GW, and that at the ceremony the light was brought down from the cupola with a lantern and used to light that fire. He said that means the spirit of George Washington lit the bonfire.
“It reminds me of the bonfires we had back home in Indiana,” freshman Clark Ream said. “The food is great, but the best part is the tri-cornered hats.”
Jason Bezis, a 1995 graduate, said he was concerned because the University failed to adequately celebrate George Washington’s birthday while he was an undergraduate.
“The University did absolutely nothing to commemorate George Washington’s birthday while I was here,” Bezis said. “I think it’s wonderful that (GW) has returned to its tradition of honoring its namesake’s birthday.”