The University rang in its namesake’s 275th birthday Thursday with an annual birthday bonfire, s’mores, hot cider and a cherry pie-eating contest.
University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg and GW’s “secret” society, the Order of the Hippo, sponsored the event.
The event has traditionally taken place outside in University Yard with colonial-era drummers and music, but inclement weather forced the event inside into the Marvin Center Grand Ballroom, which prohibited having a bonfire.
“For us not to do something to celebrate George Washington’s birthday would have been thoughtless,” said Trachtenberg, who also briefly addressed the students. “We should be reminded of where we came from. Besides, this is a nice tradition. I think things like this stand out in people’s minds when they look back on their college years.”
George Washington believed the early United States needed a national university located in D.C. where “youth from all parts of the United States” might go to be educated in the arts and sciences, and to study “the principles of politics and good government.” To help cover its cost, Washington willed 50 shares of his stock in the Potomac Company towards the foundation of what became the Columbian College in 1821, and today has grown to The George Washington University.
“I think there’s a need to recognize the founder and namesake of our University,” said senior Josh Lasky, who is the executive vice president of the Student Association but said he attended the event as a student volunteer. Organizers said about 250 students passed through the event.
The Order of the Hippo hosts the birthday celebration of George Washington every year. Washington was a member of an exclusive society, the Free Masons, of which Trachtenberg is also a member.
“Universities have a terrible tendency to take themselves too seriously. It’s important to keep your sense of humor about these things,” Trachtenberg said, in reference to the Order. “This is, of course, assuming they exist.”
The annual cherry pie-eating contest is a tongue-in-cheek reference to George Washington’s honesty. According to legend, six-year old George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree with a brand new hatchet he had just received. When his father questioned him about it, young George owned up because he “couldn’t tell a lie.” Ironically, the truth is that the story was made up by an early Washington biographer, Parson Mason Weems, who wished to illustrate Washington’s virtues, according to the Mount Vernon society Web site.
Of the nine pie-eating contestants, junior Laura Brown beat out two other women to win for the females, while the men’s contest ended in a four-way tie between sophomore O.G. Oyiborhoro and juniors Kirk Haldeman, Mike Keough and Chris Brooks.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had four winners before, this is definitely a first,” said senior Liz Fox, one of the student volunteers in charge of the event.
Many students came not for competition, but simply to enjoy the free food, which included four cherry cobblers, 15 cherry pies, more than 300 s’mores as well as cider and hot cocoa.
“I got the postcard invitation and thought, ‘Well, there’s dinner,'” junior Zac Morgan said.
Freshmen Frances Hassun and Laura Pereira saw the fliers and said they came for the s’mores.
“Even though they’re raw, they’re still pretty good,” Hassun said.
Corey Barenbrugge, a sophomore, described the cobbler as “exquisite.”
Students and organizers were disappointed about moving the bonfire into the Marvin Center, but Thursday’s gusty winds left no choice.
“We made the call around 2 p.m. today; it just didn’t make sense to hold it outside,” Fox said. “But given the last minute location change, we had a pretty impressive turnout.”