News and Analysis

Friday, Sept. 11, 2009 9:59 a.m.

First lady offers service challenge; may be Commencement speaker


Updated 3:50 p.m. First lady Michelle Obama has promised to be the 2010 Commencement speaker if the GW community completes 100,000 hours of community service this year, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said this morning.

Service hours will be counted monthly by the GW Office of Community Service, and “volunteerism, service learning, and federal work study service employment” will count toward the tally, according to a University statement. Work with AmeriCorps and other pro-bono service will be counted as well.

Obama’s challenge coincides with GW’s Freshman Day of Service, and the eighth anniversary of 9/11. More than 1,500 freshmen are expected to participate in the Day of Service, according to the statement.

Student Association President Julie Bindelglass and SA Executive Vice President Jason Lifton said Obama’s challenge spurred from a letter they sent the first lady over the summer, asking her to participate in the Freshman Day of Service. Read the letter here (PDF).

Although Obama said she could not attend the event, she offered the possibility of speaking at Commencement if GW students could complete her challenge.

“When she initially said she couldn’t attend Freshman Day of Service, it was something that came to mind and were able to work out, and we are so happy that we did,” Bindelglass said.

University President Steven Knapp announced Obama’s challenge to the hundreds of freshmen participating in the Freshman Day of Service, Friday afternoon in University Yard.

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“I am grateful to the first lady for this inspiring challenge, and I know that our entire GW community – students, faculty and staff – will rise to meet that challenge and we will be with the first lady, on the Mall this coming May,” Knapp said.

Knapp said that last year, GW students alone clocked nearly 65,000 hours of community service.

“If we get everybody engaged, I have no doubt that we will meet that 100,000 hour mark,” Knapp said.  “Its pretty impressive, but I think we’ll get it done.”

Katie McCormick Lelyveld, Michelle Obama’s press secretary, said the first lady has “every expectation to be the guest Commencement speaker in May of 2010.”

“It’s on her calendar,” McCormick Lelyveld said.

Timothy Kane, the director of GW’s Office of Community Service, said more than 61,000 hours of community service were logged last year by students. Kane said that data includes OCS volunteer programs, as well as OCS-based Federal Work-Study student employment hours, AmeriCorps placement and OCS-supported service-learning.

Kane said that with the challenge set forth by Obama, OCS may now include community service hours logged by student organizations, the Greek-letter community, non-OCS Federal Work-Study student service employment, staff service and complete service learning class service.

Emily Cahn contributed to this report.

  • serena barnes

    Would Alumni service hours count toward the total?

  • Please God No!

    Please God No! Nooooooooooooooooo!

    Thank God, It will not matter, because GW students are selfish and will not complete 100,000 hours of “service”.

  • Elliot

    Can I work 100000 so she won’t be our commencement speaker?

    What if we get close and it’s not enough for her to come? Will we just not have a commencement speaker? Let’s get one that will actually do it without any conditions and not waste the entire year with the possibility that we might, possibly, get her to do it.

  • Matt

    I don’t know about others, but I am still impressed by the number of fellow GW alums I know who have taken up careers in public service. So, “Please god no!!!” I have no idea where your idea that the GDub community won’t be able to achieve this admirable goal from our neighbor and First Lady. GW regularly overshadows our competitor schools in numbers of students who serve in Teach For America, Peace Corps, and Americorps. Good luck current students! Get out and volunteer!

  • Recent grad

    At what point does community service become incentivized to a point where it is no longer done out of the compassion of one’s heart and because of one’s good will?

    If someone who would not have otherwise done any community service chooses to do at least one hour this next academic year solely because of what Mrs. Obama said, can it really count as community service? Or is it now being done with the selfish intent to have Mrs. Obama as our commencement speaker rather than the selfless intent to help others?

  • Don

    Recent grad,

    Whether its done out of compassion or for a different goal, what’s important is that it is getting done and people are helped. Also, those who do it for a different reason, who would have never done it out of compassion, may see that they like helping out and will want to do it out of good will in their later years.

  • Thank you, Mrs. Obama!!

    Mrs. Obama,
    You are my hero.
    -Jackie Cook

  • Toud

    That’s a man, man!

  • Don’t Tread on Me

    @ Thank you, Mrs. Obama!!
    Why is she your hero? She is the first lady, an honorific position that just means you have four years where everyone comments on your dress. As far as I can tell she has done nothing of note as of yet

    @ all
    This is simply a publicity stunt on all ends. If the university falls short do you really think that we wouldnt fudge numbers. If we failed this would make us look badly as a school. It is irrelevant of if that is true or not.
    In addition do you really think Obama is going to hold the school accountable for this number. If GW gets 99,999 hours of service do you really think she will just walk away and take the weekend off. She is one of the most popular people in politics currently, mainly because she is not involved in current politics. Do you really think that the Obama administration would pass up an opportunity to throw her in front of a camera to talk about the importance of education and volunteering.

    This is all for show, so it doesn’t matter. She will be speaking at the end of the year unless if the school only gets 1 hour of volunteering.

  • Kevin

    It’s incredibly easy to be cynical about this and people have laid out the reasons to be. But I think it’s a shame that instead of thinking about ways to contribute people are trying to pick it apart behind their computer screens. You don’t have to like Michelle Obama and you don’t even have to do an ounce of community service. Stop pissing all over it for people who are inspired to do something selfless as a result of this challenge and move on with your life.

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  • Mark

    Well stated Kevin!!!


    As one who has been 70 plus day without a home because of my time at GW and now President Knapp I am $170,000 in debt from my “Educational Experience” at GW. I will say I am a VERY PROUD DC RESIDENT and I am sad to say that of the time I have spent listening to the DC community on my adventures in DC I have always made it a point to ask “What has GW done for you?” Not ONE Washingtonian has ever responded with ANYTHING positive. “They are about the money for them” “They are uptown” “Boojie” “White, rich, folk” “Those people” With DC being one of the poorest Urban communities in the United States and an area with the most rich culture I personally am ALWAYS looking for mentors and people that will give of their time. Soooooooooo. . . . THANK YOU Mrs. Obama for the challenge! I don’t care what gets GW students to serve the DC community because former Presidents sure haven’t inspired, the current President isn’t inspiring (he has yet to meet with me in TWO years- he takes breaks during the summer- even though my tuition is the same cost in the summer) So if Mrs. Obama isn’t a challenge I challenge you!!! Show up an almost GW alumn (God willing I graduate) and spend less time at McFadden’s, less time in Georgetown and less time worrying about if your purse is in season.

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  • Mike

    First off before everyone attacks me I happen to like President Obama and his wife. However I am assuming that this will be my one and only undergraduate commencement address and I would like it to be by someone more notable. She may be a great first Lady, but in actuality, what has she done? She went to law school, was a lawyer, and then married a Senator who went on to become President. When Hillary Clinton spoke she had done way more than Michelle Obama and was more than equipped to talk to a group of college graduates. I would much rather see someone like Senator Dodd or even Senator McCain go up there. That would be an inspiring speech. I dont really want to hear from someone who has been on the cover of fashion magazines and tabloids for what shes worn. Its a publicity stunt and I am incredibly sad this is happening. I would like to start a petition to get her to not be the speaker and someone else give the address but of course no one will support that was everyone is currently on the Michelle Obama wagon.

  • Elizabeth

    Last time Rahm Emanuel, now Michelle Obama? Wow. I can’t believe she’s placing conditions on her appearance… so conceited! I would do a great deal of community service to have the pleasure of NOT seeing her speak. I will request as many tickets as possible, leave those seats empty and go serve my community elsewhere.

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