Who’s the Hero and Who’s the Zero?

By Taylor Frey

Elm Staff Writer


Hero: George Washington


At Washington College we take pride in our connection to the Founding Fathers. When you tour campus as a perspective student this connection is not something you miss. As a student you quickly realize that Mr. Washington is at the very heart of everything we do. From Birthday Ball to the depictions of George across campus, to the central mission of educating citizen leaders, Washington’s influence is inescapable.

Established in 1782, the College was lucky to receive Washington’s assistance and approval.  Washington served on the Board of Visitors and Governors, lent his name to the institution, and made financial gifts to WC. Beyond his notable support for this college, Washington was beyond remarkable in his service to the country as a delegate, general, and president. Without Washington, the America we know today would be unrecognizable. Washington’s service to the College and our country should continue to be a central source of pride. Washington’s involvement with WC’s founding is just the first contribution to a greater historical arc.

While other institutions also have direct connections with certain founders (notably the University of Virginia and the College of William and Mary), WC’s connection to Washington is special. Washington’s service as a member of the Board of Visitors and Governors, his status as an honorary alumnus, his financial support of the institution, and his direct approval of the use of his name were the only interactions Washington had with higher education of the same kind and intensity. We should be proud of this and proud of one of our nation’s greatest leaders.


Zero: The Remaining Founding Fathers 


Yes, the Founding Fathers and framers of our government are quite awe-inspiring. They fought against tyranny, established what would become a true democratic system of government with the later expansion of voting rights, and played an integral role in the American story. For these reasons, we often idealize founders until they become perfect archetypes of our own ideals. We project 21st century versions of liberty, advocacy, hope, leadership, and the American Dream on founders, and we often forget that the founders were far from perfect individuals. We forget important pieces of history, and the importance of understanding history from multiple perspectives. We forget that the vast majority of early political leaders were slave owners and often had lives as imperfect as the lives of modern politicians.

Aaron Sorkin once said, “If we expect our leaders to live on some higher moral plain than the rest of us, well we’re just asking to be deceived.” We must continue to idealize the founders for their contribution to our story and existence, but we must not let our idealization serve as a historical smoke screen. We must notice the slaves working in the background of old portraits of 17th and 18th century America hanging on the walls of campus buildings. There is a certain duality to our founders, and it is time we bring that duality into our understanding of the men and women who populate American history.

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