First lady issues challenge on day of service

Correction appended

Usually, GW seniors have to endure nearly eight months of school before finding out who their Commencement speaker will be. This year, they may have only had to wait two weeks.

University officials said Friday that 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. The announcement came on GW’s Freshman Day of Service, an event that sent more than 1,200 freshmen to multiple locations in the D.C. area to perform two-and-a-half hours of community service.

University President Steven Knapp announced the challenge during the event’s opening ceremonies, saying that he expects the community to meet Obama’s goal.

“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.

The first lady’s promise sprung from a letter sent over the summer from Student Association President Julie Bindelglass and SA Executive Vice President Jason Lifton, asking her to participate in the Freshman Day of Service. Obama said she could not attend the event, but instead offered the possibility of speaking at Commencement if GW students could meet 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,” said Bindelglass, who painted a house in Southeast D.C. Friday afternoon with the first lady and President Barack Obama.

Last year, GW students alone logged more than 61,000 hours of community service, said Timothy Kane, the director of GW’s Office of Community Service.

Obama’s challenge, however, will include hours logged from the entire GW community of students, faculty and staff members.

Kane added that the 61,000-hour figure includes all OCS volunteer programs as well as OCS-based Federal Work-Study service employment, AmeriCorps placement and OCS-supported service learning. He said Obama’s challenge may possibly include community service hours logged by student organizations, the Greek-letter community, and non-OCS Federal Work-Study service employment.

Last year, the Greek-letter community logged more than 25,000 hours of service, which would bring the total service hours for the 2008-2009 school year to more than 86,000 hours, not including the additional work-study or student organization hours.

Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Michelle Obama’s press secretary, said OCS will keep track of the number of service hours the community logs and the first lady will receive periodic updates.

“Mrs. Obama has every expectation to be the guest Commencement speaker in May of 2010,” McCormick Lelyveld said.

Obama is not the only first lady to have given a Commencement address at GW. Former first lady Barbara Bush spoke in 2006, and in 1994, then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton addressed graduates on the White House Ellipse.

Sept. 14, 2009
The article originally said that first lady Laura Bush spoke in 2006. Barbara Bush was the Commencement speaker.

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