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Chairman of the Board of Trustees W. Russell Ramsey, BBA ’81, congratulates President Steven Knapp during the inauguration at the Charles E. Smith Center on Nov. 16.

By Jaime Ciavarra

Photos by Jessica McConnell

Steven Knapp, the University’s 16th president, said in his inaugural address that he would work “to make [GW] synonymous with the highest degree of excellence.”

Another chapter of GW history unfolded this past fall with the inauguration of Steven Knapp as the University’s 16th president.

Standing before some 2,500 faculty, students, staff, and friends, President Knapp, a seasoned literature scholar and practiced higher education administrator, pledged to maintain the vision of founding father George Washington while pushing the University to the next level of academic distinction.

“My job from this day forward will be to do everything in my power, working with all of you, to make [GW] synonymous with the highest degree of excellence in the pursuit of our mission: a mission of learning, discovery, and service to the nation’s capital, the nation itself, and the global community to which we belong,” Knapp said during his inauguration at the Charles E. Smith Center on Nov. 16.

D.C. Councilwoman and GW Law Professor Mary Cheh offers greetings during the ceremony. About 2,500 students, faculty, staff, alumni, national and international delegates, and friends attended the installation of President Knapp.

Formerly the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at The Johns Hopkins University, Knapp succeeds Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, who stepped down from the University helm in August after 19 years. President Knapp comes to GW with nearly three decades of higher education experience.

The newly installed leader, attired in the traditional blue velvet and wool gown and the official President’s Medallion, shared his vision for GW. He promoted strengthening partnerships in the capital and the community and pointed to research as a priority with “significant room for growth.”

Former GW presidents Lloyd Hartman Elliott (left, 1965–88) and Stephen Joel Trachtenberg (right, 1988-2007) attended the celebration of their successor.

“We are today, and are ever more becoming, a truly global university, one that is proudly anchored in the capital city of the United States, but also one that draws students from some 150 nations around the world, and that measures the impact of its research not only in regional and national but increasingly in global terms,” Knapp said. “The impact of our research has never been quite as visible as it deserves to be and as it must become.”

In his address, he touched on the University’s long and fruitful history in the heart of Washington while also applauding former presidents Lloyd Hartman Elliott and Trachtenberg, both of whom were in attendance, for creating a true campus setting and raising the institution’s academic standards.

For a specialist in 18th- and 19th-century English literature, the celebration—the University’s first in nearly two decades—seemed fittingly poetic.

Diane Robinson Knapp and President Knapp admire the historic Bible on which George Washington took his oath of office in 1789.

Rows and rows of faculty members dressed in colorful regalia processed into the Charles E. Smith Center bearing a rainbow of banners and flags. The University Singers and the GW Wind Ensemble entertained with several harmonious selections, including the alma mater. And a video highlighting the University’s accomplishments and goals, titled “Celebrating Our Strengths, Envisioning Our Future,” played on jumbo screens. Nearly 800 people who were unable to attend the ceremony watched the inauguration via a live Webcast.

GW’s most esteemed community members gave President Knapp a vote of confidence during short but sincere greetings. Alumni Association President Richard Crespin, BA ’93, said Knapp joined thousands of proud, distinguished alumni as stewards of the University, while Student Association President Nicole Capp applauded him for genuinely listening to student voices and for, “more importantly, [being] a great guy.” In a traditional charge, Board of Trustees Chairman W. Russell Ramsey, BBA ’81, asked President Knapp to use his knowledge, love of learning, integrity, and humor to benefit the institution and the lives it touches.

GW Alumni Association President Richard Crespin, BA ’93, inducts President Knapp and Diane Robinson Knapp into the GWAA during the alumni breakfast on Nov. 15.

“In undertaking this great challenge, you will enjoy the support and cooperation of all parts of the GW community, a family with a shared sense of purpose that transcends each of us as individuals and connects us to the University mission and its ever-expanding goals,” Ramsey said.

President Knapp, already an established leader in higher education, says he is now poised to help GW reach its fullest potential.

“We will know we have succeeded when The George Washington University is, and is seen by all to be, the intellectual center of a national capital that is also, in so many ways, the capital of the contemporary world,” he said.

GW student performance groups, such as GW Raas, celebrated the inauguration of President Knapp during the Student Performance Revue at Lisner Auditorium on Nov. 15. The revue was produced by the GW Program Board.

The ceremony’s pomp and circumstance capped a week of inaugural activities that ranged from a hunger and homelessness banquet to a donation of two Hog Island sheep from George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. In more than 30 events, the University highlighted its Washington-area partnerships, research, and worldwide alumni, while also taking a day of service that allowed students and community members to gather for a Foggy Bottom clean-up.

GW Vice President for Communications Michael Freedman, who chaired the Inaugural Steering Committee, expressed his appreciation to the more than 100 staff members, students, faculty members, alumni, and trustees who worked for six months to plan and execute the activities. “This was a consummate team effort and a source of great pride to all of us,” he said.

Sarah Knapp, Diane Robinson Knapp, and President Knapp receive two Hog Island sheep given to them by executives of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens at the University’s Mount Vernon Campus on Nov. 12. George Washington is believed to have raised the Hog Island breed.

GW student Kenan Cole explains her research to President Knapp during inauguration week activities. Cole’s poster was one of 180 displays set up for a Research Gallery at the Marvin Center on Nov. 14.

Symbols of Leadership

While many relics and traditions mark GW’s special ceremonies, the University Mace and the President’s Medallion are particularly visible during inauguration.

The University Mace

GW’s mace is carried by the marshal when the University is in an official gathering. Traditionally, a mace was a weapon used on the battlefield. In the earliest days of academic life, the marshal walked ahead of the rector of the university, swinging the university mace to
ward off vandals who might be inclined to do mischief to the rector. Over time, the mace ceased to be a weapon of protection and became a symbol of authority. GW’s mace was created by Associate Professor of Sculpture Harry Irving Gates and was presented to the University by the Faculty Women’s Club. The profile of George Washington is shown on the four flanges.

The President’s Medallion

The GW Presidential Medallion, worn by the president of the University as a symbol of office, completes the president’s academic regalia. In turning over the position of University president to Steven Knapp, Chairman of the Board of Trustees W. Russell Ramsey, BBA ’81, placed the pendant around Knapp’s neck. In the center of the medallion is the University seal, which is supported by a chain of ovals and rectangles alternatively showing the letters “GW” and the image of George Washington.