Josh Akman: The real senior class gift

Early Friday morning, after a night out in Dupont Circle, I walked home to my apartment in the Winston House. Like every other night, I passed a group of about 20 homeless people, huddled together under the canopy outside of my building. I made eye contact with a girl, about my age, crouching in the alley. It was freezing and rainy outside, and I felt terrible for her, so I gave her the warmest smile I could muster.

It was at that moment that I realized she wasn’t just huddling in the alley for warmth – she was going to the bathroom. For the rest of my life, I’ll never forget the face that stared back at me. She was mortified – absolutely, completely, hopelessly embarrassed. Here I was, drunkenly walking back to my warm apartment building, and this poor girl, no older than me, had to endure going to the bathroom on the street, in front of strangers.

This morning I read about the senior class gift online. According to the Web site, “the Senior Class Gift, a tradition at GW since the 1980s, is a way for each class to leave an imprint on the University.” It says I can leave my “imprint” on the Annual Fund, the Smith Center, the Student Aid Initiative, the Science and Engineering Complex or the Colonial Community. Instinctively, my thoughts turned to that girl. I live in the building under which she sleeps, and I’m supposed to give to the library? I don’t think so.

GW’s campus is virtually indistinguishable from the city. With the exception of flags and a few other buff and blue decorations, you can’t tell where GW ends and D.C. begins. That’s the way we like it. We all came to GW to be a part of the District, and to embrace the city for all it has to offer. I remember being stumped on the New York University application by the question, “Without mentioning New York City, why do you want to come to NYU?” GW didn’t ask this question on its application – we don’t even try to separate the campus from the city.

For the most part, this works well. We draw prospective students to campus by extolling the internship opportunities off campus, and we excitedly tell fun “D.C.” stories, like being late to class because of a motorcade, or having class canceled because of a political protest at the World Bank. So now, after four years here, as I’m looking to make my “imprint,” I can choose between the library or the Smith Center? You have got be kidding me.

There are real problems in this city. The Washington Post calls the AIDS problem in D.C. “a modern epidemic,” as more than 3 percent of the city is HIV-positive. Education Weekly named D.C. public schools the worst public school system in the country. In the United States, the average number of homeless people for every 10,000 is 22. In Washington DC, in our city, it’s 90.

As GW students, we have the ability to bring real change. We can see the real problems in our city, problems far worse than a library that needs updates, or an arena that needs (more?) renovation. So let’s make the change. I won’t be giving a senior gift this year. Instead, I’ll be giving to charity – the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Maybe the 2010 Class Gift Committee will see the limited options they are presenting to the students, and add an option to give our senior class gift to charity. If they do, I’ll be the first one in line to give.

We go to school in Washington D.C. Let’s start acting like it.

The writer, a senior majoring in criminal justice, is a Hatchet columnist.

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