Mission Accomplished: Wrighton ‘Grateful’ for GW Tenure
Mission Accomplished: Wrighton ‘Grateful’ for GW Tenure
As his tenure draws to a close, President Mark S. Wrighton reflected on accomplishments and only-at-GW moments.
// By John DiConsiglio
George Washington University President Mark S. Wrighton never liked the term “interim.”
He was clear on his mission when he took office on Jan. 1, 2022. After serving for nearly 24 years as chancellor and chief executive officer at Washington University and five years before that as provost at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Wrighton was charged with steering GW through a transition period, in other words, sustaining a foundation of world-class faculty, staff and students as the university searched for his successor.
“A new president does not normally say, ‘My job is to prepare for the next president,’” he said. “But that was my assignment, and I embraced the responsibility.”
But while he may have been a temporary president, Wrighton never approached the position as a “caretaker,” he said. Stepping onto a campus that had recently celebrated its 200th anniversary while weathering the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, he committed himself to strengthening the GW community.
During his 18 months in office, he assembled a senior leadership team and spearheaded priorities from enhancing interdisciplinary research to expanding financial aid resources to developing philanthropic partnerships. Along the way, he became a familiar face in Foggy Bottom, whether attending basketball games at the Smith Center and musicals at the Betts Theatre or walking his dog, Spike, by University Yard.
As he prepared to preside over Commencement on the National Mall—among his favorite GW traditions—before Ellen Granberg becomes GW’s 19th president on July 1, Wrighton was lauded for his transparent and collaborative leadership style as he sure-handedly shepherded the transition.
Left to right: President Wrighton talks the value of a GW education with School of Business Dean Anuj Mehrotra, presides over the College of Professional Studies’ Commencement celebration and poses with Spike, a favorite on campus.
"We have all been the beneficiaries of President Wrighton’s remarkable leadership and ability to bring everyone together under a common purpose."
Provost Christopher A. Bracey
A Faculty Senate “Resolution of Appreciation” singled out his “extraordinary wisdom, perseverance, transparency, kindness, good humor and leadership.”
And at the Board of Trustees meeting in May, the board cited Wrighton’s “distinguished service and his ongoing dedication and commitment to the university” in another resolution, which named one of the university’s new endowed professorships in the academic medical enterprise the Mark S. Wrighton Professorship in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences. The board also named Wrighton president emeritus, effective July 1.
Meanwhile, colleagues praised Wrighton’s experience and vision.
“We have all been the beneficiaries of President Wrighton’s remarkable leadership and ability to bring everyone together under a common purpose,” said Provost Christopher A. Bracey. “He is what legendary excellence in university leadership looks like in action, and he has charted the course as we have embarked upon our third century.”
For his part, Wrighton pointed to retaining and recruiting key leadership as a major accomplishment that will impact the university into its third century. He credited a vibrant community of students, staff and scholars—along with stakeholders like GW alumni and donors—with supporting him while he guided the university’s teaching and research mission, and enthusiastically looked forward to GW’s next steps. “I’m very grateful that I had this opportunity, and I feel that the new president, Ellen Granberg, will be able to do a great job here,” he said. “I see a university with enormous potential… GW has the opportunity to take its place alongside the most outstanding universities in America.”
From the moment he arrived on campus, Wrighton said, he was continually inspired by GW students. “They’re diverse, academically talented, very engaged and aspiring to make a difference in the world,” he said. Indeed, his favorite GW activities often involved student showcases like the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design’s NEXT Festival, where he viewed graduating students’ artwork at the Flagg Building. “I think any college or university would be proud of the creative expressions that were exhibited that night,” he said.
"I see a university with enormous potential… GW has the opportunity to take its place alongside the most outstanding universities in America."
President Mark S. Wrighton
On his long list of only-at-GW moments, Wrighton recalled campus lectures by Anthony Fauci on the COVID pandemic and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on U.S.-China relations. He was particularly struck by this year’s Martin Luther King Jr., Day of Service, when Vice President Kamala Harris joined GW students for volunteer activities on campus—an “extraordinary” event, he said, that highlighted GW’s location in “this unique place, Washington, D.C.” While living in the District, Wrighton said he was privileged to enjoy experiences like being invited by the ambassador from Japan to go to the embassy to celebrate the Cherry Blossom Festival and attending a gala dinner at the Swedish Embassy for a Nobel Prize-winning chemistry colleague. “Those are moments that only occur right here,” he said.
Perhaps most of all, Wrighton said, he’ll miss his campus walks with Spike. In the mornings, he routinely stopped to chat with staff members on their way to work. In the evenings, he was often approached by students. He recalled a student stopping him to pet Spike along his 20th Street route—and asking if the president wouldn’t mind being interviewed for his project. “I did [the interview] right there on the street,” Wrighton said, laughing.
After completing his tenure, Wrighton will return to Washington University and one of his first loves: teaching chemistry classes. With family in the area, he expects to be back in D.C. from time to time. “I’ll be prowling around the GW campus and hoping that I see someone who remembers me.
“I was proud to be their president,” he said.
William Atkins/GW Today