Dedicated in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), a hero of the American Revolution, defender of liberty, statesman, and good friend of George Washington.18 October 1997
In 1777 the 20-year old Marie-Joseph-Paul-Yves-Roch-Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, purchased a ship and sailed with a party of soldier-adventurers from France to America to join Washington's army. So impressive was the young marquis that he was made major general (without pay) by the Continental Congress and joined George Washington's staff. He was wounded at the Battle of Brandywine, served at Valley Forge, and played a vital role in the Yorktown Campaign. He returned home as a hero and at the age of 24 was raised by King Louis XVI to the rank of marechal-de-camp (brigadier general) in the French Army. A hero in both countries, he was influential in France and America, continuing to work diligently and diplomatically on behalf of American interests.
In 1784 Lafayette revisited America and stayed with Washington at Mount Vernon. On his farewell visit in 1824 he was magnificently entertained as a guest of the City of Washington. During this festive triumphal tour of the United States (1824-25), Lafayette and his Suite attended the first Commencement exercises of Columbian College, which later became The George Washington University. Held precisely at half past 10 o'clock a.m. on 15 December 1824 at Dr. Laurie's Meeting House on F Street between Fourteenth and Fifteenth Streets, the graduation was also attended by President James Monroe, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and many other members of the two Houses of Congress. After the ceremony General Lafayette was welcomed by the First President of Columbian College, The Reverend Dr. William Staughton, at a reception at the College with the trustees, faculty, students, and other distinguished guests, followed by dinner at the home of the President.
All in all the First Commencement Day of our very young Columbian College was truly splendid-exceeding all expectations. Indeed it was one that would have done honor to any of the older universities in the nation. The press was enthusiastic in its reports of the Commencement. The weather was unusually fine. "Every part of the performance evinced talents and mental cultivation of a high order." The house was crowded with an "intelligent and fashionable auditory." Music was furnished by the United States Marine Band. Lafayette expressed his thanks for the honor done him, the pleasure with which he had witnessed the Commencement, and his wishes for the prosperity of the College. Each student was then introduced. The General shook hands with each one and spoke to all the students in terms of paternal affection. Such was the First Commencement Day.
Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, President
John D. Zeglis, Chairman, Board of Trustees
Charles T. Manatt, Vice Chairman, Board of Trustees
Sheldon S. Cohen, Vice Chairman, Board of Trustees
Lilien F. Robinson, Chair, Faculty Senate Executive Committee
Kuyomars "Q" Golparvar, President, Student Association