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Family/Homecoming Weekend 2018: Conscience and Community

What a jam-packed weekend!  Our 10th anniversary year started with a bang last weekend: hundreds of guests, top-notch speakers, insightful conversation, a sparkling rooftop Gala, and–of course–plenty of camaraderie between old friends and new!

The festivities began with two gatherings on Friday night (one for younger graduates and another for older graduates, family members, and friends).  At those events, Director of Graduate Affairs Robbie Ross and others publicized a Graduate Steering Committee to help prepare us for the celebration that will end our 10th anniversary year next October.

Then we awoke early on Saturday morning for a model English class taught by Academic Dean and English teacher Christian Starling.  Parents and friends (including a few thoughtful younger siblings!) worked through the SEGL-famous “Tennis Balls Speech” from Shakespeare’s Henry V, mixing journal reflections, discussion, textual analysis, and performance in an hour of reflective fun.

Following the model English class we sat together as a community and participated in one of the more remarkable conversations in SEGL history.  With Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, as our “host,” we discussed, debated, and reflected on a remarkable leadership choice she made in June: to ask White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave her restaurant because of her political advocacy.  Group by group, different parts of the SEGL community joined the traditional Family/Homecoming Weekend “Fishbowl” to offer their views.  Some thought Wilkinson had made the wrong decision, and some offered her high praise.  The conversation was classic SEGL: participants from across the political spectrum sharing views in good faith and learning from each other in the process.  After the discussion, Wilkinson offered high praise for the community and, for the first time, spoke publicly about her decision and the subsequent ordeal.

After a short intermission, the entire community returned in full force for our keynote panel: “Journalism in the Fake News Era” featuring two renowned investigative journalists, Michael Rezendes (senior reporter on the Spotlight news team at the Boston Globe) and Susanne Craig (investigative reporter at the New York Times who recently published the blockbuster story on President Trump’s finances).  The room was rapt from the beginning, when moderator Valeria Gonzalez (Fall 2017) asked each to describe the biggest ethical dilemma she or he had faced as a reporter.  After the 75-minute session, Rezendes Tweeted out the following:

Then it was time for lunch!  Our chef, Susana Heureaux, led a team of expert chefs in preparing a splendid meal of smoked ribs, chicken, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, cole slaw, plantain bread pudding, and more.  Old friends and new mingled as they scarfed down the meal, and then everyone headed back to the main auditorium for our Golden Mug Award ceremony.

Our 2018 honoree is Clark Neily, Vice President for Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute and co-counsel for the landmark 2008 Supreme Court case DC v. Heller.  Neily is a perennial SEGL favorite who often speaks with students about the Second Amendment and his commitment to the free exchange of ideas.  After grateful praise from SEGL Head of School Noah Bopp and Spring 2018 graduate Olivia Marwell, Neily offered kind words about SEGL and its students, as well as some thoughts on the current political climate.  After the standing ovation that followed his remarks, he was, as usual, surrounded by students and graduates wanting to engage him.

Following a brief break for more fellowship, Neily took the state for one of the more animated and memorable panels in Family/Homecoming Weekend history.  Together with an ideological opposite, Hayne Yoon from the Vera Institute, Neily offered both collegial and passionate insight into one of the more fraught topics in modern U.S. policy: criminal justice reform.  Hands flew skyward after each answer, and guests gathered around each speaker long after the panel finished.  Special thanks to Tamiya Fowler (Fall 2017) for moderating!

Later that night, the entire community came together for our Annual Gala atop the George Washington University’s Elliott School.  With sweeping views of DC’s monuments from a wraparound rooftop deck, we cam together to share updates, welcome new faces, and hear remarks from SEGL’s Founder and Head of School Noah Bopp.  Using a highlight from the current semester, Bopp spoke about the power of choosing conscience over authority, and the Latin root of conscience, which is a work meaning to know together.  He also announced a project to measure SEGL’s collective conscience, and its impact, in time for our 10th anniversary celebration at the close of this special year.

The next morning Bopp and new SEGL Board Chair (and founding trustee) Paige Cottingham-Streater led the 2018 State of the School conversation, which shared our successes, upcoming challenges, and plans for the future (including some exciting expansion updates).  And then, with a few tears, it was time to return home.

We’ll see you next year–our tenth anniversary–for an even more festive celebration.  Don’t miss it–mark your calendars for October 18-20, 2019!

Oct 17, 2018

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