Knapp speaks to Masons, but steers clear of membership

Web Update
Saturday, March 15, 6:10 p.m.

University President Steven Knapp made his first official appearance at a Freemason event Friday, but left little clues as to whether he would join the historic brotherhood like many of his predecessors at GW.

Knapp praised the relationship between Freemasonry and the University at a luncheon held in honor of recipients of the Scottish Rite Scholarship, and said such type of philanthropic contribution is essential in his mission to increase affordability at GW.

Addressing a group of more than 40 GW students whose scholarship funds together total $300,000, Knapp said this program, which was founded in 1927 by a $1 million donation, is “the largest single piece of our endowment that is dedicated to our students’ scholarship.”

He added that groups such as the Masons are important to accomplishing his goal of quadrupling scholarship donations, which he announced last month at a Board of Trustees meeting.

“The single most important aspect of this plan is to increase the amount of private, philanthropic donations, and (the Scottish Rite Scholarship) is a good example,” he said.

Former University presidents Steven Joel Trachtenberg, Cloyd Heck Marvin and William Staughton were all Masons. As were one of the University’s founders, Luther Rice, and its namesake George Washington.

Jason Van Dyke, a GW alumnus and current special assistant to the sovereign grand commander at the Scottish Rite branch of the Masons, said he believes all GW presidents were members of the brotherhood. The University’s archivist was unable to confirm this statement.

Trachtenberg, who holds one of the highest positions in the Masons, said he joined soon after becoming president because he saw their contributions to the school.

“I met some nice people who did lots of good for GW students and for GW,” Trachtenberg said in an e-mail.

Knapp said he has no intentions to join as he is just beginning to learn about the fraternity, but noted that his maternal grandfather was a Mason. A person must ask the Masons to become a member, as well as profess a belief in God.

“Our support of GW, and President Knapp for that matter, doesn’t change no matter what (he decides),” Van Dyke said.

Knapp expressed a desire to continue the “very long and deep connections” between GW and the Masons, as this historical relationship has been mutually beneficial.

GW has used the Scottish Rite Endowment, named after one of the two main branches of Freemasonry, in various ways, like acquiring new hospital equipment and funding additional scholarships to students with a family member in the Scottish Rite.

The Masons have also performed traditional cornerstone-laying ceremonies to mark the beginning of construction on numerous GW buildings, including New Hall, Stockton Hall, the Hall of Government and 1957 E St. These symbolic ceremonies are quite similar to the one performed by Mason George Washington as he laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol in 1793.

The Masons possess the Bible on which Washington took the first oath of office, a precious artifact used at many U.S. presidents’ inaugurations, in addition to Knapp’s inauguration this fall.

Knapp recalled his reverence as he watched the “honor guard of two white-gloved Masons” carry George Washington’s Bible.

“I didn’t take oath on that Bible,” Knapp said, “because I thought that would be a little presumptuous.”

-Eric Roper contributed to this report.

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