Student’s Lesson: Georgetown’s Contemporary Story

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Georgetown is a neighborhood known for its history. The name of one of its restaurants pays homage to the year of Georgetown University’s founding. Plaques and signs designate historic parks and homes.

Attending Georgetown University for four years certainly made me aware of that history. It is impossible to graduate without reflexively knowing the importance of the year 1789 and without having at least a cursory understanding of John Carroll’s role in the school’s founding.

For a long time, that was what I thought of Georgetown — the events and people of years ago, our neighborhood a symbol of the importance of Washington, D.C., to this nation in the past.

But after time spent on M Street or Wisconsin Avenue, in the shops and among the people beyond the university, I began to see Georgetown’s contemporary story.

There are the people who arrived in Georgetown from other countries, whose dreams of success have come true with the opening of their own businesses. There are the career politicians who come home to Georgetown at the end of the day, experiencing the peacefulness of the tree-lined streets (sometimes shaken by the whoops and yells of college students living next door).

Now more than ever, all these people are connecting the past with the present. Famous sites like Tudor Place and Oak Hill Cemetery come alive again with new visitors, tourists and locals. Every spring, the Georgetown House Tour showcases homes with historic significance that are now significant for their contemporary residents.

There, too, is history that for a long time has been untouched. Only last year, Georgetown University began making important connections with its past, exploring the impact the Jesuit sale of slaves had on the school and the community and trying to decide how to address that part of its — and our — history.

Over the four years I spent here, Georgetown developed in my mind from simply a place “with a lot of history” into a neighborhood of people trying to connect with and understand how that affects us now.

Moving back to Southern California, I miss having the past, the good and the bad, as a stalwart foundation for the identity of where I live. That made Georgetown more than just a geographical area for me. It became a place of mystery, a place where people want to explore and discover how people lived before them, how that shaped where they are now.

Because of that, this neighborhood and Washington, D.C., are constantly alive with a vibrancy you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, fueled by its past and evolving through the people of the present.

Figuring that out is what made my four years here — at school and living in Georgetown — so uniquely valuable.

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