The School of Foreign Service celebrated its centennial with a gala weekend over Nov. 15 to 17, hosting panels with notable guest speakers, career-planning workshops and a formal ball at the National Building Museum.
The weekend’s festivities included the “Centennial Gala Dinner,” a formal ball held Saturday at the National Building Museum with 1,200 guests, including well-known alumni such as former President Bill Clinton (SFS ’68) and King Felipe VI (GRD ’95) of Spain. The ball also featured a performance by renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.
Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were also featured on separate panels about global affairs and foreign policy at this weekend’s centennial events. In addition, Academy Award-nominated actor David Strathairn performed a solo play about the life of Jan Karski (GRD ’52, H ’83), a Polish World War II hero, longtime SFS professor and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.
The weekend was a central event in a series of celebrations throughout the academic year to commemorate 100 years since the founding the SFS, which was established in 1919 by Fr. Edmund Walsh, S.J., a Jesuit priest and Georgetown University geopolitics professor.
The centennial budget for events over the course of the year totaled $1.8 million, according to Will Layman (LAW ’87), executive director for the centennial. Layman was hired in 2015 to assist with planning the gala, as well as other celebrations throughout the year aimed at celebrating the history of the school, he said in an interview with The Hoya.
The centennial events aim to both commemorate the school’s history and encapsulate how the SFS exemplifies Georgetown’s Jesuit values, according to Layman.
“We want the centennial to be about more than just a fancy black tie gala, which was really great and really cool, but it’s got to give out more than that,” Layman said. “We want it to touch students; we want it to touch alumni.”
The attendance of many SFS alumni, including ambassadors and state officials, contributed to making the gala a memorable experience, according to Divjot Bawa (SFS ’23).
“What the centennial means to me really again goes to highlight and show the incredible opportunities, connections and influence the SFS has had not just in the Georgetown community, but really in the world impacting government, nonprofit and corporate organizations, and institutions,” Bawa said.
Through workshops over the weekend, Georgetown alumni shared their career stories with students and other attendees, speaking on their leadership experiences in various fields and industries. As part of the programming, the SFS also hosted informational interviews to connect students and alumni.
Centennial programming organizers published a book, “SFS 100: A Century of Service,” documenting the history of the achievements of SFS alumni and professors, according to Layman. The school also installed an exhibit in Lauinger Library, “The House That Walsh Built: A Century of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service,” showcasing historical items related to the school, such as graduation bulletins, photographs and school announcements, to draw attention to the anniversary.
The weekend was a highlight of the yearlong celebration of the SFS’ centennial festivities, according to Layman.
“It’s not just one weekend; it’s not just one party, but it’s really a whole year of substantive engagement,” Layman said. “And the bigger thing was that Dean Hellman felt that the SFS needed to do a lot of planning not just to plan an event or series of events, but to start learning how to tell the story of the school and to do it over some time.”
In addition to the gala, the SFS has and will continue hosting events throughout the rest of the academic year. The school held an informal “SFS Birthday Bash” in the Healey Family Student Center on Sept. 20 and will also be co-sponsoring both a men’s basketball game in February and the annual Global Expo held by the Georgetown International Student Association in the spring. Additional centennial celebrations for alumni farther from the Hilltop will take place in New York, San Francisco and London over the next few months, according to Layman.
The centennial is an opportunity to gather students and alumni together and remind them of the importance of the SFS’ mission, Hellman said. The recent political climate in particular has emphasized the importance of the SFS in encouraging students to enter the field of foreign affairs, according to Hellman.
“To some extent, the very idea of foreign policy professionalism is being undermined as we speak, as we’re watching it on television through the hearings and others,” Hellman said. “What an incredible opportunity to gather everyone together and remind ourselves of the importance of what we do here.”