First lady offers service challenge; may be Commencement speaker

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Updated 3:50 p.m. First lady Michelle Obama has promised to be the 2010 Commencement speaker if the GW community completes 100,000 hours of community service this year, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said this morning.

Service hours will be counted monthly by the GW Office of Community Service, and “volunteerism, service learning, and federal work study service employment” will count toward the tally, according to a University statement. Work with AmeriCorps and other pro-bono service will be counted as well.

Obama’s challenge coincides with GW’s Freshman Day of Service, and the eighth anniversary of 9/11. More than 1,500 freshmen are expected to participate in the Day of Service, according to the statement.

Student Association President Julie Bindelglass and SA Executive Vice President Jason Lifton said Obama’s challenge spurred from a letter they sent the first lady over the summer, asking her to participate in the Freshman Day of Service. Read the letter here (PDF).

Although Obama said she could not attend the event, she offered the possibility of speaking at Commencement if GW students could complete her challenge.

“When she initially said she couldn’t attend Freshman Day of Service, it was something that came to mind and were able to work out, and we are so happy that we did,” Bindelglass said.

University President Steven Knapp announced Obama’s challenge to the hundreds of freshmen participating in the Freshman Day of Service, Friday afternoon in University Yard.

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“I am grateful to the first lady for this inspiring challenge, and I know that our entire GW community – students, faculty and staff – will rise to meet that challenge and we will be with the first lady, on the Mall this coming May,” Knapp said.

Knapp said that last year, GW students alone clocked nearly 65,000 hours of community service.

“If we get everybody engaged, I have no doubt that we will meet that 100,000 hour mark,” Knapp said.  “Its pretty impressive, but I think we’ll get it done.”

Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Michelle Obama’s press secretary, said the first lady has “every expectation to be the guest Commencement speaker in May of 2010.”

“It’s on her calendar,” McCormick Lelyveld said.

Timothy Kane, the director of GW’s Office of Community Service, said more than 61,000 hours of community service were logged last year by students. Kane said that data includes OCS volunteer programs, as well as OCS-based Federal Work-Study student employment hours, AmeriCorps placement and OCS-supported service-learning.

Kane said that with the challenge set forth by Obama, OCS may now include community service hours logged by student organizations, the Greek-letter community, non-OCS Federal Work-Study student service employment, staff service and complete service learning class service.

Emily Cahn contributed to this report.

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