The George Washington University will celebrate the inauguration of Thomas J. LeBlanc as its seventeenth president on November 13, 2017. All members of the GW community are invited to participate in this special occasion.
Delegates from other colleges and universities march in the academic procession according to the school’s founding date, the oldest school going first. Foreign and domestic universities are mingled in the procession according to the founding dates.
Delegates of learned societies and honor societies march in the academic procession according to their organization’s founding date, oldest first.
Symbols of the University
The University Charter
Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, the oldest school of the university, was chartered by Congress and approved by President James Monroe on Feb. 9, 1821. Originally proposed as a religious denominational school by its founding group of Baptists, the college was finally approved as an explicitly non-sectarian institution. The charter provides “that persons of every religious denomination shall be capable of being elected trustees; nor shall any person, either as President, Professor, Tutor, or Pupil, be refused admittance into said College or denied any of the privileges, immunities, or advantages thereof, for or on account of his sentiments in matters of religion.” A facsimile of the charter is presented to the president as a token of the special relationship that exists between the government of the United States and the only institution in the nation’s capital named for the founding father of the United States.
The University Mace
Traditionally, a mace was a weapon used on the battlefield. In the earliest days of academic life, the university 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. At the George Washington University, the university mace is carried by the marshal when the university is in official gathering. The mace of the George Washington University 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 University Seal
The seal of the George Washington University is two inches in diameter bearing the head of George Washington, as painted by Gilbert Stuart, on a chief (azure), and an open Testament showing the following words in Greek from the Gospel According to John 1:1-4, on the left page: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was the God, and the Word was God,” and, on the right page: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Upon the background are the words Deus Nobis Fiducia, “God in our Trust.”
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. The university seal is supported by a chain of ovals and rectangles alternatively showing the letters “GW” and the image of George Washington.
The Presidential Gown
The presidential gown, crafted from wool fabric, features four velvet sleeve chevrons — an honor reserved for university presidents — and is trimmed in a braided buff silk cord. The costume is complete with a tam in matching blue velvet and a gold bullion tassel. This symbol of office is worn at academic convocations, commencement and special occasions when processions are required.
The Faculty Code
The shared governance that exists between the faculty and the administration is given tangible expression at the George Washington University by the Faculty Code. Spelling out right and duties of the faculty, the code provides structure and continuity of institutional leadership for each administration.
In addition to the flags of the United States and the District of Columbia, the flag of the university inspires allegiance to alma mater. The flag features the seal of the university at the center of perpendicular bars of blue on a buff field. These colors are taken from the Colonial Army uniform of General George Washington.
Above the stage are the flags of the various schools of the university, each with its own symbolism. Professors Arthur Hall Smith and Constance Christian Costigan worked with a committee to design the flags.
The flag of Columbian College of Arts and Sciences has diagonal stripes of white and gold, representing art and science, on a field of blue, representing philosophy. The book is a reference to the original seal of the Columbian College (designed by James Peale in 1821) in which a book is prominently with Greek letters that quote from the Book of John “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God.”
The flag of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences shows the wand of Asclepios against the traditional green field.
The flag of the Law School has the profile of George Washington on a purple field, the traditional color of the discipline of law.
The flag of the School of Engineering and Applied Science features a seal with representations of the different fields of the discipline that are offered at the university.
The flag of the Graduate School of Education and Human Development notes its commitment to lifelong learning with the torch and books against the light blue field of the discipline.
The flag of the School of Business presents its medal of achievement on a yellow field with blue perpendicular bars.
The flag of the Elliott School of International Affairs has the landmasses of the Earth against a white background and a red border.
The flag of the Milken Institute School of Public Health has a green cross against a salmon background with a green border.
The flag of the College of Professional Studies has a lighthouse against a beige background.
The flag of the School of Nursing has a gold shield with three portions each containing an image: a cross, a lamp and an academic book. The shield is enclosed by a navy blue banner and sits against a royal blue background.
The wearing of academic costumes is a custom that goes back to the Middle Ages. When the early European universities were founded by the Church, the students and teachers were required to wear distinctive gowns at all times. Although the custom was brought to this country in Colonial days, the requirement for students was dropped. In our own Columbian College, founded in 1821, the custom was retained for a number of years — the exact number is not known. The custom for professors was confined to special occasions such as graduating exercises and inaugurations of new presidents.
With the increase in the number of educational institutions and the development of new academic fields, some confusion arose in time about the type of gown and the specific color to denote various degrees. To introduce desirable uniformity and set up a clearinghouse for new developments, a commission representing leading American colleges produced The Intercollegiate Code in 1895. In 1932, a national committee of the American council on Education revised this code into The Academic Costume Code. It was revised again in 1959. Although not obligatory, most of the educational institutions in the country follow it in awarding their degrees, both earned and honorary.
The most significant part of the academic dress is the hood. The color of its velvet border indicates the academic field, and it is lined with the color or colors of the institution granting the degree. All liberal arts candidates of the George Washington University, for example, wear hoods with white velvet borders and linings of buff and blue, the buff as a chevron across the field. The hoods of those receiving a Master of Arts or an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters or Doctor of Humane Letters have the same color indications, but each successively higher degree carries with it a longer hood. The doctoral hood also has side panels on the back.
Although most doctoral gowns are black with black velvet bars and panels, in some cases the color of the gown is that of the university conferring the degree. All such gowns have black bars and panels. Examples of each of these are found in the university faculty.
Academic fields also may be indicated by the color of velvet on the doctoral gowns: three two-inch bars on the sleeves and a five-inch border extending from the back of the neck down the two sides in front. For the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, the color is dark blue; for Doctor of Medicine, green; for Doctor of Education, light blue; for Doctor of Science, golden yellow; for Doctor of Juridical Science, purple. These colors also appear in the velvet of the hood unless the hood represents an honorary degree.
Caps are black. Tassels are usually black for bachelor’s and master’s degrees, gold for doctorates. Gowns for bachelor’s and master’s degrees are plain black, but sleeves of the latter are short with trailing “elbows”. Doctoral gowns of European universities are usually very colorful. The caps are often of some soft material like velvet and are ordinarily not of the conventional mortarboard shape. Several examples may be seen in the university faculty.
Fields and their Colors
Arts, letters, humanities - white
Commerce, accountancy, business - drab
Education - light blue
Engineering - orange
Fine arts, including architecture - brown
Law - purple
Medicine – green
Nursing - apricot
Philosophy - dark blue
Physical education - sage green
Public administration, including Foreign Service - peacock blue
Public health - salmon pink
Science - golden yellow
About the George Washington University
The George Washington University grew out of the desire of our country’s first president to establish an institution of higher learning in the nation’s capital. In his last will and testament, George Washington bequeathed 50 shares of stock in “the Potomac River Company towards the endowment of a university to be established within the limits of the District of Columbia...”
The company ultimately became insolvent, rendering Washington’s financial legacy worthless. His vision lived on in spirit, and, largely due to the zeal of Baptist Minister Luther Rice, who raised the funds and petitioned Congress for a charter, GW opened its doors in 1821 as Columbian College in Washington, D.C. The college started with three faculty members, one tutor, and 30 students.
In the Civil War’s aftermath, the ranks of government workers swelled in the District, and Columbian College grew to meet their needs. The college began to offer evening classes for advanced students and added new courses of study. In 1825, it added a medical school, and, in 1826, a law school. In 1904, the institution changed its name to the George Washington University to reflect President Washington’s dream.
Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the nation’s capital. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study as well as degree programs in medicine, nursing, public health, law, engineering, education, business, and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students for all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 130 countries. More than 90 percent of full-time faculty members hold doctoral or terminal degrees. And the university has more than 275,000 alumni living across the United States and around the world.
GW works constructively with the community of its roots, Washington, D.C. It benefits from its proximity to the federal government and to the headquarters of national and international organizations. The community, in turn, benefits from the educational and cultural programs the university provides.
In the words of a distinguished authority on President Washington, Marcus Cunliffe, who taught at GW, “The University is not literally the place that George Washington sought to establish. Yet, in some very real sense, today’s George Washington students are his heirs.”
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