Inauguration Address

November 3, 2023

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Inauguration Address (as delivered)

November 3, 2023

President Ellen M. Granberg

19th President of the George Washington University


Thank you, Chair Speights. I am so grateful to you and the entire GW Board of Trustees for placing your confidence in me, and for your continued partnership in the leadership of this remarkable institution.

It is truly an honor to join those here in person today, and the many joining online, as the 19th President of the George Washington University.

Arati, thank you for your kind and thoughtful introduction, your friendship, and your commitment to our nation’s scientific enterprise.

Richard, Mohammad, and Dustin, and our students, faculty, staff, and alumni, thank you for your inspired and heartfelt words this morning.

Provost Bracey, thank you for your steadfast leadership, and the continued partnership of you and the entire GW leadership team.

I also want to offer my deepest gratitude to the GW staff who worked so hard to make this inauguration possible despite an increasingly complex set of circumstances. Thank you for the extraordinary work and the energy you have put into this week’s events. I couldn’t be happier.

To my colleagues, friends, family members, and mentors, thank you for continuing to inspire, motivate, and guide me. I’m here today because of a foundation built upon your enduring wisdom and friendship.

And finally, to my wife, Sonya – thank you for your love and support. This journey is our journey, and I am so glad we are taking it together. 

Today, we mark the inauguration of GW’s 19th president… but this us not a moment about me, it’s a moment about us.

This moment is a chance to come together as a community to celebrate our excellence, embrace what makes us unique, and take pride in who we are as a university… what we have accomplished… and what we still have to give.

For over two centuries, The George Washington University has changed the world through exceptional education, groundbreaking research, and outstanding patient care and public service. We have trained generations of local, national, and world leaders, produced discipline-defining scholarship, and cultivated a remarkable legacy of impact and service.

We should be proud of this legacy, and we should always celebrate it. And we must ensure that this legacy is also our future.

Now in our third century, there is no doubt that GW, and our world, have reached a set of critical and defining moments.

Overseas, war, terrorism, and immense human suffering fill the headlines every day. At home, rancor, political polarization, and misinformation have pulled communities apart and called into question our fundamental rights as Americans. 

At the same time, technological advancements are occurring at an exponential rate, outpacing the governments and societies who use and regulate them.

And of course, the planet we live on, our one home in this universe, is undergoing significant and potentially catastrophic climate change.

Coming on the heels of a global pandemic, the combination of all these pressing challenges can seem overwhelming. But, I know, and I believe we all know, that in the most difficult times are also the greatest seeds of opportunity.

As I get to know our GW community and I learn more about our institution, I see a community already pursuing those opportunities.

You are politicians and thought leaders, changing the world through law and administration. You are scientists and engineers, pushing the frontiers of discovery and innovation. You are historians, political scientists, and writers, learning from the past to inform the future, and you are physicians, nurses, therapists, and volunteers, building a better, brighter world through patient care and public service. 

You are GW. A remarkable community, each of us with unique perspectives and approaches, but all with one shared goal: to build a greater world.

It’s this passion for change, this innate desire to see through the darkness and stay focused on the opportunity that defines us. This is what makes us Revolutionaries.

Throughout history, Revolutionaries have banded together and united around a common cause. They have challenged the status quo through a belief in big ideas and their power to change the world.

We are here at the George Washington University because we know that the world needs change and can change. And we are here because we know that this university, in the heart of our nation’s capital, is the place to make change happen.

GW… we are here because we know the world needs us.

Just look around our campuses. Look at all the work you, our students, faculty, and staff, are doing right now. We are actively working to tackle the challenges of today and prepare for those of tomorrow.

As world events stoke passions and beliefs, our students and faculty are working to combat hate and deepen our collective understanding. Despite the news grabbing headlines, our community has come together to create powerful spaces for healing, discussion, and productive engagement.

GW faculty have hosted panels featuring scholars and experts, who are leading our community in modeling civil discourse and disagreement. Our schools and colleges are banding together to create new curricula to explore the context of today’s conflicts and to continue our long tradition of connecting academic study with current affairs. 

And in an age when hyperpolarization and the weaponization of social media undermine the foundation of our interactions with each other, GW is working with experts, leading journalists, and key policymakers to understand these dynamics and develop solutions.

As a university, we are resilient, and GW is here today because we know how to use these moments to recommit to our strengths, animated by the idea that the world needs GW to continue striving for solutions to all our grand challenges.

We are tackling the challenge of technology by co-leading the NSF Institute for Trustworthy AI in Law and Society. This first-of-its-kind research institute is exploring how artificial intelligence can safely and effectively integrate into our lives.   

By breaking down disciplinary silos and bringing together GW faculty from across the university, we are helping lead the way to a future in which technology enhances, improves, and protects the human experience.

To take on the climate crisis, public health, hunger, and poverty, we’ve partnered with world-renowned chef, restaurateur, and humanitarian José Andrés to launch the Global Food Institute.

Reaching across all 10 GW schools and colleges, the GFI will help current and future students, faculty, policymakers, and industry leaders transform our food systems, turning groundbreaking discoveries and innovation into lifesaving policies and strategies.

And in the coming days, we will be announcing a revolutionary next step in how our students and faculty conduct and develop innovative research, advocacy, and coursework in sustainability.

Our more than 60 research centers and institutes, our classrooms, and our labs, both on campus and around the world, are centers of change where our community can come together to create new knowledge and unlock bold solutions.

And it’s from within these arenas that our global leaders emerge, imbued with the knowledge, skill, and experience that only GW can offer.

The university's role has always been to create an environment that perpetuates the free exchange of ideas, produces innovative research, and, most importantly, educates a future generation of leaders.

Today, that role is more important than ever.

There is no university… there are no solutions… if we do not continue to educate and empower a diverse group of highly talented students from across disciplines.

But the cost of education is skyrocketing, and GW is no exception. I don’t need to tell anyone here that this is an expensive place to live and learn.

We cannot create the next generation of Revolutionaries if they don’t have reasonable access and opportunity to come to GW, stay at GW, and graduate from GW with the skills and experiences they need to tackle grand challenges on a global scale.

Every year, GW partners with organizations and alumni, as well as the District of Columbia and federal governments, to give critical financial aid through grants, awards, and scholarships for high school students from across the country.

But we must do more. That is why, as President, I am committed to finding new, bold ways to make the dream of a GW degree a reality for everyone who has the talent, desire, and determination to join us.

GW should be a place where we can ignite everyone’s passions and connect all disciplines. It should be a place where a student of mathematics can contribute to new approaches to sustainability. Where a student in health sciences can pursue an internship in global food policy or cybersecurity and law. Where a student’s GW experience, combined with their academic programming, lives on for years through their careers, accomplishments, and actions.

For generations, the world’s leaders have been educated right here at GW. We’ve produced at least 120 members of Congress, 79 ambassadors, two U.S. secretaries of state, and two U.S. attorneys general, as well as countless journalists, judges, CEOs, service members, and activists.

I think we can all agree, these are impressive numbers… but, more importantly, we all know these numbers will soon be obsolete!

Because somewhere at GW is the world’s next leading scientist, physician, or genre-defining artist. Somewhere, right now, we are educating the next entrepreneur, the next global humanitarian, or the next national leader.   

Across our campuses, we are educating our world’s next Revolutionaries, and I am committed to doing everything we can to ensure they have the opportunities and resources they need to succeed.

Today, I have the honor and the privilege of accepting these symbols of the university and answering the board’s charge to be the 19th President of the George Washington University, but I need to say again that this moment is not about me.

This is about us. This is about coming together as a community and charting a path forward. This is about changing the world through research, service, and impact. This is about the future of the George Washington University.

We are a community of revolutionaries committed to excellence and as a community we will raise higher, together.     

Thank you.