Student graduation speaker Alex Zafran demonstrates the ΦBK handshake to Kerry Washington as GW President Steven Knapp looks on. All three are ΦBK members.
By Alex Zafran
Each year, George Washington University hosts an open competition for students of all concentrations and degrees to speak at the famed commencement ceremony that takes place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Students must first record a video of themselves delivering their proposed speech; if this video meets the approval of the competition committee, the student is then invited to deliver the speech live before the committee, who then make the final decision.
To be frank, I never thought my entry would get much attention—I was competing with absolutely brilliant students from all across the world. Nevertheless, on my birthday, I was shocked to learn that I was one of the ten students whose videos had been select as finalists. One month later, after giving the speech in person to the committee, I was incredulous when GW President Steven Knapp announced that I had been chosen.
The George Washington University Commencement Weekend took place Friday, May 17 to Sunday, May 19. Our ΦBK initiation occurred Friday afternoon at Lisner Hall on GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus, where over 100 students, including myself, were initiated with great pleasure and enthusiasm. I couldn’t fully appreciate the importance of our “ΦBK Handshake 101″ lesson until two days later.
On the Sunday morning of commencement on the National Mall, I had the honor of being in the “VIP tent” in the moments before the ceremony began. As I lined up with university honorees and university officials, Kerry Washington—the commencement ceremony’s keynote speaker—popped into the photo.
I knew that I’d never have the chance to speak to her once the press mobbed her. I figured I probably had ten seconds to talk to her. And what did I choose to do with her in these ten seconds? Share the official ΦBK handshake with a fellow member, obviously! Miss Washington must have been so confused by what this young man was attempting to do, but she was kind enough to smile while it happened.
I graduated from GW that day as a proud Colonial, summa cum laude honoree, student organization leader, and most of all, a proactive ΦBK. I will never forget it!
Alex Zafran is a 2013 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of George Washington University. He now works in business development with Gelt Financial Corporation. Kerry Washington became a member of Phi Beta Kappa at George Washington University in 1998.