The third Monday in February – Presidents’ Day, also observed as Washington’s Birthday – has become a day to honor and celebrate not only the first president, but all of the presidents of our great nation, past and present. Holidays have a way of inspiring long-lasting traditions. In 1896, the U.S. Senate began observing George Washington’s birthday by reading the first president’s farewell address.
The document was written in September 1796, but was never delivered by Washington. Instead it was sent to newspapers across the country to be read by citizens of the then-fledgling nation. Among the nuggets of wisdom expressed in his famed farewell address, Washington states: “I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is always the best policy.”
In February 1862, the sixteenth U.S. president, President Abraham Lincoln, issued a proclamation encouraging every citizen of the United States to gather in earnest on February 22 to celebrate Washington’s birthday by listening to or reading aloud the words of the first president’s “immortal Farewell Address.” The document was read in the U.S. Senate on February 22, 1862 and again in 1888. The reading of Washington’s farewell address in the Senate became an annual tradition in 1896.
Every year during a legislative session in late February, a member of the Senate is appointed to read the historic document, written as an open letter addressed to the “people of the United States.” The political parties alternate years to share the honor of reading the rather lengthy document. After reading the farewell address out loud, the appointed senator participates in another 100-plus-year-old tradition, using a leather-bound journal to write a note of the occasion and to sign their name.
In one such note written by Senator Paula Hawkins in 1985, she observes that more than a century later, Washington’s “message remains the same – Duty – Honor – Country.” Those three powerful words used to describe the first U.S. president’s overall message in his farewell speech – Duty. Honor. Country. – also make up Georgia Military College’s core values.
GMC core values established to uphold and instill in students personal and professional qualities such as responsibility, honesty, integrity – as well as loyalty to country – just as Washington stresses in his farewell address written more than 200 years ago. Core values grounded in character and placed at the center of GMC’s mission and purpose.
Isn’t it remarkable that the character-driven values and ideal qualities Washington thought were vital to build our great nation upon more than two centuries ago are still valued and taught today – including here at GMC? Our country’s first president knew that what’s good for our country is also good for the community, for the character – and for the classroom.