A nationally recognized historian and expert on George Washington served as the speaker for the Cum Laude Society induction ceremony in Baker Theater on Feb. 24, the first all-school assembly with an in-person, featured guest since the start of COVID-19.
Seniors Jackson Schwartz, Michael Montgomery, Luke Apostolides, and Tyler Wilson were each inducted into Cum Laude, joining fellow seniors Felipe Leao and Seth Yoo, who were named last year.
Gene Allen Smith, Ph.D., professor of history and director of the Center for Texas Studies at Texas Christian University, served as speaker. He gave a talk entitled “George Washington: The Character of a Founding Father.”
Smith told students that the legend and myth surrounding George Washington belies the complexity and reality of the man himself; he said Washington was a physically imposing man of 6'3'', with size 13 feet and false teeth, who as a young man “was obsessed with becoming a Virginia gentleman, obtaining large land-holdings, and receiving a commission in the British Army.
“As a young man, he would do most anything to rise to the top — to be a success.”
Yet, had he been a Texas football coach, Washington’s record as a military commander would have gotten him fired, Smith said. As a military commander in the War for Independence, 1775 to 1781, he had a record of 3-9-1.
“George Washington was not a military genius, not a brilliant strategist, or competent tactician, but he was a persistent and natural leader of men who convinced them time and again to renew their enlistments."
A speech in Newburgh, N.Y., in 1783 was one of Washington’s most significant, Smith said. Addressing a roomful of angry officers who had not been paid, Washington paused as he pulled his eyeglasses from his pocket and uttered these famous words: “It seems I have grown gray in the service of my country. Now it seems I am now going blind.”
Washington had displayed his own frailty, and Smith told students the remark stunned the officers.
“The men, all the sudden that ice in their veins, it melted,” he said. “Men were crying because George had sacrificed so much.
“The officers voted unanimously to remain loyal to the civilian government for which they had fought. That was a political performance, one of the most important performances by Washington ever.”
Later that year, on Dec. 23, 1783, Washington went on to give an even more famous speech before the Continental Congress. It was then he surrendered his commission, “retired from the great theater of action,” and made history.
“Washington had done what no other general had done in a thousand years,” Allen said. “When he had everything in his grasp, when he could have made himself king or dictator, he gave it all back. He did it for the idea, the idea of all men being created equal. That they were fighting for all people.
“His character had evolved from the ambitious youth who was concerned with acquisition and status — (yet) he gained all that he had ever wanted by giving up what he had.”