Hundreds of students and administrators gathered at Marvin Center on Friday to celebrate the 276th birthday of George Washington at the University’s annual Birthday Bonfire.
It was the second year in a row that the celebration was moved indoors due to inclement weather. An extra day of planning this year allowed organizers to transform the Continental Ballroom into a festive area where participants ate cupcakes, sipped hot apple cider and competed in a cherry pie eating contest under the glow of a virtual fire log in lieu of a real bonfire.
Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, debunked popular myths about George Washington in his opening statements. Chernak told the crowd the infamous cherry tree incident was merely a historian’s fabricated effort to make Washington appear honest.
He also said Washington was actually born on Feb. 11, but that the date was changed to Feb. 22 after the United States changed its calendar system.
“So you say, ‘Why the hell are we here?’ Right?” Chernak joked after the revelation.
“It’s important to have fun, but it’s also important to show respect . for the guy who had the vision and the will to place a university in (D.C.),” Chernak said near the end of the event.
Student volunteers helped the Little George mascot blow out his birthday candles while a fully uniformed fife and drum corps played ‘Happy Birthday’ and 10 students donned rain ponchos to prepare for the pie-eating contest.
Freshman Whitney Kasle said she was rooting for junior David Earl.
“He’s outgoing. He doesn’t care about embarrassing himself. And he’s big,” Kasle said.
Student Association president Nicole Capp, a junior, and current presidential candidate OG Oyiborhoro, also a junior, tied for first place in the contest, which was judged by Diane Knapp, wife of University President Steven Knapp.
“I think I’m allergic to cherries,” a red-faced Capp said after finishing the competition. “I’m sure I had the smallest stomach.”
Capp said she saw the event as an opportunity for the GW community to bond.
“Traditions are the best way to generate spirit on campus,” Capp said.
Junior Mazal Memascha said the event is merely an excuse to take a break and have a good time.
“It’s always fun to celebrate, no matter what it is,” she said while enjoying the free food.
Vice President of Communication Michael Freedman said the event was a success. “It certainly is an enthusiastic crowd,” said, who credited the success of the event indoors to early planning.
Freedman said the tradition of celebrating George Washington’s birthday began seven years ago when students expressed concern that not enough was being done to honor the University’s namesake.
“It keeps us in touch with our roots as an American institution,” said Damien Shirley, executive director of the GW College Democrats.
Shirley, who competed in the pie eating contest, was surprised by Capp’s win but had no hard feelings.
He said, “I figured I got three-quarters of a pie out of it.”