University Marshal Jill Kasle has been telling the same joke for more than a decade.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is a wonderful thing to be University marshal, it really is. Among other things, the University marshal is permitted to carry the University mace with her wherever she may go, day or night, on foot or in the Metro.”
The line that always drew big laughs from Commencement crowds now seems bittersweet as the associate professor of public policy and public administration steps down from her largely ceremonial role overseeing official functions at the University.
“I’m certainly melancholy that the marshal job is coming to an end,” Kasle said. “But it’s been slowly changing for these last four years and, as the job changed, that freed up time to do other things. So I have really mixed feelings.”
After 22 years as GW’s first female holding the title, the only thing that prevented Kasle from fulfilling her final duty as marshal is the one thing she could never control – a force of nature.
Freshman Convocation, meant to be a transition for new students, was also intended to be the final moment of Kasle’s tenure as marshal. But with Hurricane Irene’s arrival scheduled to fall on the same day, University administrators made the decision to postpone the event and instead incorporate it into the Freshman Day of Service on Sept. 11.
Though her involvement in the newly-combined event was temporarily up in the air, Kasle preferred to bow out entirely rather than postpone the end of her service as marshal.
From runaway guests of honor and cicada swarm warnings, to snow forecasts in May, the former child actress and attorney credited her ability to think on her toes as the key to running successful events that put her in contact with world leaders and legendary artists.
Former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg selected Kasle for the post in 1989, citing her “style, imagination and leadership skills” and her ability to understand his thinking.
In a position that serves at the pleasure of the president, Kasle explained that the University’s change in leadership in 2007 had a direct impact on her role as marshal.
“When President Trachtenberg was in office, the Office of University Events put on 70 events a year and I participated in about 35. That’s a lot of events,” Kasle said. “When President [Steven] Knapp came into office, the number of events that I was required to do basically got cut in half.”
Kasle, who has studied the roots of the 900-year-old role, said the broad purview of GW’s marshal post stands in contrast to its incarnation at most other universities.
At Johns Hopkins University – where Knapp served as provost before coming to GW – the task of holding the ceremonial mace at convocation lay in his hands.
“I recall [Knapp] saying that to me and the minute he said that, I thought ‘game over,’ ” Kasle said. “When you sit by the computer and wait for an e-mail to come, when it finally comes it’s not a shock.”
Knapp recalled that the marshal for commencement at Johns Hopkins was a faculty member chosen each year from one of the university’s schools.
“Professor Kasle has served the University ably, both as a teacher and as University marshal, for many years,” Knapp said. “She has presided over countless ceremonies with dignity, wit and warmth.”
Trachtenberg, who came to GW six years after Kasle joined the faculty as an associate research professor and who continues to work down the hall from her in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration, said Kasle seems reluctant to step down.
“She was crazy about her job [as marshal]. It meant a lot to her,” he said. “It complemented her other academic activities and she liked it because it gave her a full agenda.”
Besides teaching three courses per semester, Kasle writes in the field of telecommunication studies, advises undergraduate mock trial teams at GW and volunteers at the National Gallery of Art on weekends. With more free time now, Kasle expects her spring semester to focus less on the buildup to graduation and more on students.
“I came here to be a professor and I just love teaching,” she said. “My students are a riot. They really are.”
For future University events, the role of marshal will be split among various faculty and administrators.
“One of the things that people don’t realize is how much a graduation means to a university and what it says about a university,” Kasle said. “And ours always said a lot.”