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An original white ash tree planted at George Washington's Mount Vernon estate in 1785. (inset) A clone of the tree, donated by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, was planted in Kogan Plaza on the Foggy Bottom Campus on Sept. 1, the 100-year anniversary of the University's name change from Columbian University to The George Washington University.

A Century of Growth

As the sun shone on Kogan Plaza Sept. 1 GW celebrated its history, new beginnings, and its namesake.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the University’s name change from Columbian University to The George Washington University, President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg oversaw the planning of a six-foot clone of a white ash tree from George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. Donated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the original tree was planted in 1785.

Lisa Moore, a member of the association, spoke of Washington’s love of trees and nature.

“The trees on the Mount Vernon estate are the only living witnesses to the life and times of George Washington,” Moore said.

To symbolize GW’s physical growth and change over the years, parts of the soil surrounding the tree include earth from GW’s campuses past and present: College Hill, 15th and H Streets Northwest, the Virginia Campus in Loudoun County, and the Mount Vernon Campus in the district on Foxhall Road. The tree is expected to grow at least 70 feet tall.

Trachtenberg recounted the University’s physical and academic developments and spoke of Washington’s desire to build a national university that would educate generations of Americans. Washington’s dream was realized 21 years after his death when Congress chartered the Columbian University in 1821. Trachtenberg said the tree was a fitting symbol of Washington’s legacy and GW’s growth.

“George Washington is famous for cutting down trees—or at least one. But the story of the celebrated cherry tree is a fable concocted after his death. It seems a bit melancholy that, when it comes to trees, he is famous as a chopper, not a planter,” Trachtenberg said. “But he was a planter—a planter with a long view. He knew the tree he moved to Mount Vernon would outlive him and grow to be the giant it is today—135 feet tall. Its long life and great height seem fitting tributes to someone of President Washington’s own stature. And this gift we receive today is a reminder of our roots and a token of our future as a university.

“We, too, began as a sapling up on College Hill, and look how we’ve grown.”

Laura Ewald

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