Convocation speakers encourage service, tolerance

Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core Eboo Patel urged freshmen to incorporate service into their GW experience at the combined Freshman Convocation and Freshman Day of Service opening ceremony Sunday.

Patel, one of President Barack Obama’s advisers on faith, implored the nearly 2,300 students in attendance to embody the values of service for which George Washington himself was known.

“There are very few individuals in history that both led a successful revolution and laid the foundation for a nation. You’re at a university named after one of them,” Patel said.

He pointed to Washington’s commitment to religious tolerance – a value that the country must continue to embrace 250 years later, he said.

At the time the country was founded, Patel described a world “where people would have identities respected, freedoms protected, safety secured, courage to cultivate good relationships with different backgrounds no matter the tensions and conflicts that may have existed.”

The Rhodes scholar said the values of religious and cultural tolerance are continually evolving, pointing to the progress made by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to bridge differences of various communities.

He said regardless of one’s upbringing, it is possible for different cultures to live together, “No matter what you see when you look outside your window, brown grass or green grass, picket fence or barbed wire,” he said, quoting a Lupe Fiasco song.

University President Steven Knapp echoed Patel’s themes of tolerance and diversity in his remarks.

Knapp said students should learn from the University community’s diverse faiths and cultures during their time at GW. He emphasized that service helps students create ties with one another despite their differences.

Provost Steven Lerman also focused on the importance of students being “engaged as active members of society.”

“We want to encourage a strong sense of giving back to the community,” Lerman said.

Lerman said students would be able to “create something positive out of something tragic” during the day of service, which fell on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.

“We can only mourn so long,” Lerman said.

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