Justin Guiffre: The president of cool

In the wake of the most epic snowstorm D.C. has ever witnessed, I am left with three things: a ton of work I didn’t do, a liver that has yet to forgive my snow day activities and a new outlook on University President Steven Knapp. I could have easily predicted the first two, but I could have never predicted the third. It happened last Wednesday night, and it will linger a lot longer than my liver’s complaints.

If the GW vs. Georgetown Snowdown showed us anything, it is the power of social media. The snowball fight was organized entirely through the use of Facebook and Twitter, and within only a matter of days, thousands of people were invited. It was so effective at spreading the word that the Georgetown Voice, the Washington Post and even the Los Angeles Times were among those who published stories mentioning the coming battle. Many people claim that Twitter and Facebook have caused students to be lazy about physically participating in protests and events. I hope that some of those people were among those who had to stop their cars in the face of several hundred GW students marching toward Georgetown.

Among those brave souls marching was President Knapp himself. By simply showing up to the battle, Knapp demonstrated a connection with the student body that we have never seen before. GW is a school that has taken to the networking capabilities of social media like a fish to water. By nature, these networks are both ad hoc and spontaneous, both of which can make it difficult for a University official to keep track of. Because President Knapp participated in an event that was organized in this manner, he showed that he understands how the student body organizes itself. It would have been impossible for an out-of-touch president to know the snowball fight was going to happen. Regardless of how he actually found out about the event, it was prescient of him to know to attend.

Even more impressive than showing up was Knapp’s comfort and personable manner during the night. Any time the University president is seen interacting with students, free from any assistants, it is a telling sign. I have had several conversations with students in which the chief complaint against Knapp was his appearance of being both scripted and overly managed. Last week, he was neither. To have him announce the cancelation of classes, there on the battlefield after victory, was an unexpected piece of bravado from a man often categorized as a quiet academic, and has surely invigorated his image among the GW community.

As I attempted to unfreeze my hands after the snowdown, a friend forwarded me an instant message conversation about the evening. One of the participants made the comment, “We have the coolest president ever.” This is the most important development for our University president – he instilled a sense of pride in our school and its leadership. Above any other factor, having pride in the leadership of our University is something I believe students desire, even if that isn’t explicitly stated. The snowball fight was the perfect way to accomplish this, because the traditional role of a president doesn’t give too many opportunities for it. Knapp could wake up tomorrow, drop tuition by a couple thousand dollars, raise millions, and win a one-on-one basketball game against Damian Hollis, but I would still brag about our school president throwing snowballs for GW before anything else.

This year, Knapp has done a lot to connect with students in a way he simply hasn’t before. If he continues to demonstrate the same kind of perceptiveness, ease and (for lack of a better word) coolness, his tenure will be a point of pride for the student body. Two weeks ago, I could never have predicted it. I hope it wasn’t a fluke.

The writer, a junior majoring in international affairs, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.

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