Va. governor reflects on his days at GW

Virginia Governor and Commencement keynote speaker Mark Warner said his internships on Capitol Hill and four years as a GW undergraduate paved the way for his future political career.

Warner – who will address graduates May 18 on the Ellipse – attended GW from 1973 to 1977 and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. A resident of Thurston Hall his freshman and sophomore years, Warner said he worked in the residence hall one summer and enjoyed spending time with friends while attending GW.

“I played some sports, partied and worked,” said Warner, who also addressed his fellow graduates as GW’s student Commencement speaker more than 25 years ago. “My experience was probably not that much different from some of today’s college students.”

Warner was a member of the GW Board of Trustees from 1993 to 2001 and a cell phone company executive before becoming governor in 2002. Warner, a democrat, said he has no plans to run for national office in the near future but may run for reelection when his current term expires in three years.

Warner will also be delivering commencement addresses at George Mason University, the Virginia Military Institute and Wytheville Community College, and spoke at Radford University last week.

In an interview with The Hatchet Wednesday, Warner emphasized his lifelong attachment to the University and expressed hope that this year’s graduates will have fond memories of time spent at GW.

Hatchet: What will your message be to the graduates?

Mark Warner: I was the student Commencement speaker back in 1977, 26 years ago, and I can’t even remember who was the main speaker. The first thing I’m going to do is make sure my speech is fairly short and not heavy on policy; I recognize that people are there for the seniors and for their parents and family to see the kids graduate. I’m going to probably give them advice that I wish someone would’ve given to me 26 years ago.

H: And what would that advice be?

MW: I’ll save that for the day.

H: What did you say when you were the student Commencement speaker?

MW: I talked about being a freshman in Thurston and trying to take advantage of the city. I worked on Capitol Hill over the years when I was at GW and took some semesters off to work on political campaigns.

H: What was your state of mind upon graduating? What was going through your head at that time?

MW: I was actually psyched up because a few days later I left and took most of the summer off and went on a trip to Europe. (Commencement) was an important event, but I was mostly looking forward to the trip I was going to leave on.

H: Where did you work while attending GW?

MW: I worked on Capitol Hill. I worked for a couple of members of Congress from Connecticut and ended up, one summer, even staying at GW as kind of a dorm monitor. I got free housing for the summer. That was kind of fun.

H: So you were like a resident assistant?

W: I had an even better job than that. I didn’t have to be an RA. (GW) didn’t rent out Thurston Hall, and I was the only person staying in Thurston Hall for the summer.

H: How was that?

MW: It was weird; it was a little strange. My job was doing any kind of maintenance that needed to be done. I changed light bulbs or tried to fix stuff up, which I’m not very good at.

H: How did GW change you as a person?

MW: I’d always been intrigued by politics and I came to GW, in a lot of ways, because I wanted to take advantage of Washington as a place to go to school. It presented me with a great opportunity. I got to work on Capitol Hill, I got exposed to what politics is all about – the good, the bad and the ugly – and I found that one of the best things about GW was its location. I also made great friends that I’ve kept up for years, a group of guys I used to play basketball with. We still get together and go to a couple of GW basketball games each year and still go out and play pickup ball.

H: Did you participate in student government?

MW: I was on a joint committee of student and faculty my senior year, but I wasn’t all that active in student government because I was working between 30 and 40 hours a week on Capitol Hill.

H: Is there one thing that sticks out in your mind about GW when you look back?

MW: GW is the kind of school where you can make as much of the experience as you want to. The thing I remember most about GW was that combination of the college world and the real world. I had a lot of fun at GW, but I also had this exposure to a lot of things I couldn’t have gotten except for a place like GW.

H: Any negatives you remember about GW?

MW: I remember at that point the administration wasn’t always as willing to work with the students as it should’ve been … maybe that hasn’t changed, either. I know when I was on the Board (of Trustees), I wanted to make sure that we felt like the administration would be responsive to students, but I think there’s always a little bit of a healthy tension there.

H: What was the toughest thing you dealt with as a student?

MW: Probably balancing work and school. I had my foot in both worlds.

H: Was there an outside event that occurred while you were at GW that shaped you as a person?

MW: One of the wildest times was when President Nixon was leading up to and then resigning. I always remember walking down to the White House area, and you’d always see people standing around saying, ‘Honk if you think Nixon should be impeached.’ It was a whole buzz during that period that was not very different from what some of your classmates experienced in Washington with the situation with President Clinton.

H: Did you remember anything specific about your times in Thurston Hall?

MW: (Laughing) Not that I can repeat to you, nothing I’d want to see in print. I had some good times. This is kind of a funny story: I remember I had this old, broken-down car, a ’65 Buick, and in freshman year of college I got all my buddies together and we were going to go one night to a mixer at Mount Vernon –

H: Which was an all girls’ school –

MW: That was before Mount Vernon became part of GW. I didn’t know my way around that well, so we all climbed into the car, all psyched on a Saturday night that we’re going to go meet some girls. So I go across the bridge, drive by National Airport, head all the way down to Mount Vernon, get down to Mount Vernon on the Virginia side, and start knocking on doors asking, ‘Where’s that girls’ college around here?’ (Chuckling) You could imagine the grief I took from the other guys in the car; we ended up getting to what could’ve been a good party just as they were shutting it down.

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