GW marks bicentennial anniversary Tuesday with opening ceremony

Media Credit: Photo Illustration by Grace Hromin | Assistant Photo Editor

GW's bicentennial celebration will kick off Tuesday with a virtual event featuring alumnae, like Kerry Washington, Dana Bash and Reena Ninan.

Officials are kicking off celebrations this week to mark the official bicentennial of GW’s founding on Feb. 9, 1821.

The University will begin its bicentennial celebration Tuesday, exactly 200 years after Congress passed the school’s charter, with a virtual opening ceremony followed by a monthslong event series designed to celebrate the achievements of students, faculty, staff and alumni. The celebrations will begin virtually, but officials have said they hope to conclude in person at Colonials Weekend in early October.

“Our success was never inevitable nor preordained,” the University bicentennial website states. “Through the persistence of generations of students, faculty, staff and alumni, GW has become a top comprehensive global research university in the heart of the nation’s capital.”

Sarah Baldassaro, the interim vice president for communications and marketing, said the event series aims to highlight the progress of the University through storytelling, signature events and a range of engagement campaigns with GW community members.

“We will also highlight how we are leading to a greater world and look ahead to our third century of leadership,” Baldassaro said at a Board of Trustees meeting Friday. “The GW community embraces the challenges of solving the world’s most urgent problems.”

Here is what’s in store for the University’s monthslong celebration:

Opening ceremony
The kickoff “Charter Day” ceremony will take place on Tuesday at 4 p.m., featuring prominent alumni as well as University President Thomas LeBlanc and former University Presidents Steven Knapp and Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. The three presidents, past and present, will be joined by journalist and 2001 alumna Reena Ninan to discuss the highlights of GW’s history.

Provost Brian Blake, Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, alumna and actress Kerry Washington and alumna and CNN anchor Dana Bash will also attend the event.

Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Donna Arbide said more than 4,100 people have registered as of Friday, and the kickoff ceremony will be followed by an “intimate gathering” online with a few key leaders and philanthropists.

Members of the University community can register online to attend the free, virtual opening ceremony by visiting the bicentennial website.

Monthslong event series
Following the opening ceremony, members of the GW community can attend a range of events celebrating the University’s bicentennial through October.

“Many of the events are featuring GW’s many established alumni, students and faculty,” Arbide said. “The calendar is sent through October 2021, but we will really continue to be unveiling and surprising everyone with our guests, so keep your ears open.”

An event calendar shared at the Board meeting Friday included five events during February: the opening ceremony, a MasterClass Feb. 17 presented by EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock, a weekend-long series of athletics games between Feb. 19 and Feb. 21, “200 Years of George Washington University” and an installment of the Presidential Distinguished Event Series Feb. 22.

“This historic anniversary is an opportunity to remember and reflect on our rich history while building excitement toward building a greater world,” Arbide said. “It’s a chance to tell our story and engage the GW community.”

Alumni honors
GW Alumni Association President Richard Jones said plans for alumni outreach will directly tie into the bicentennial story once the celebrations begin.

Administrators said GW also recruited 180 alumni to be bicentennial ambassadors. The ambassadors will focus on advertising bicentennial events on social media and connecting with students, Jones said.

“For the spring, the GW Alumni Association wants to expand our virtual alumni engagement around GW’s bicentennial celebration but also through bicentennial volunteerism and bicentennial distinguished alumni recognition award,” he said at the Board meeting.

Officials said they plan to honor some of GW’s most successful alumni with a new recognition. The Monumental Alumni Award, created for the bicentennial celebration, will recognize living alumni who have had “an impact on the world” and embody the values of the University.

Jones said the award will recognize 76 living alumni who have had a lasting impact on their industry or the world. He said recipients of the award will be announced in GW Magazine in March, and he is hopeful that they can come to an in-person event during Colonials Weekend in the fall to receive their awards.

He added that GW will host four “distinguished alumni lectures” discussing the critical issues of the world during the spring and summer. He said the first event is slated for March 25.

“It will be a discussion about our global footprint and role in global events,” Jones said.

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