Schar School Undergrads Help Welcome Australia’s Prime Minister to White House

A large group of young people dress professionally stand in front of the White House in Washington, D.C.
From left, Associate Professor Jennifer N. Victor, Associate Professor Eric McGlinchey, Jacob Risinger, William Barker, Aarush Jambunathan, Riley Pierce, Sabrina Afzall, John Mckey, Mary Decker, Yousef Alakkad, Sona Jinson, Anthony Andriolas, Joseph Blanchette, Shad G. Karim, Anastasia Rea, Grace Martinez-cora, Laura Lopez Salazar, Sierra Hill, Adjunct Professor Shea Holman, and Associate Professor Mariely López-Santana. Kneeling, Liam Campbell. Not pictured, Finn Riedl. Photo by Buzz McClain/Schar School of Policy and Government
A small U.S. flag and an Australian flag adorn a program from an event at the White House.
Photo by Jennifer N. Victor/Schar School of Policy and Government

On a glorious late October morning, a few hundred business-attired guests strolled the flag-festooned South Lawn of the White House to help President and First Lady Joe and Jill Biden welcome Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese and his partner Jodie Haydon to the U.S. during the traditional Welcome Ceremony that accompanies official state visits.

Among the invited guests were 16 students from the undergraduate programs of the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. They were accompanied by the faculty members who lead the four learning communities that bring students together with like-minded peers to share opportunities and experiences, including field trips like this one.

Mason’s Schar School is uniquely positioned for those interested in pursuing an education in government, international politics, public policy, and other fields that tackle the world’s largest problems. The university’s proximity to Washington, D.C., and its faculty and staff’s access to those in seats of power were amply demonstrated on this day, as President Biden stood at a podium about 50 yards from where the Schar School students stood listening to the welcome address.

“I love Washington, it’s my dream place,” said Sierra Hill, a first-year government and international politics major who came to Mason’s Fairfax Campus from her home in Gypsum, Colorado, a town of about 8,000 in the Vail Valley.

“I came to Washington to have these opportunities,” she said as the military bands on the other side of the security fencing played traditional marching music ahead of the president’s appearance. “The only way I was able to come out here was because of the scholarship that George Mason gave me. Mason took a chance on me, and I’m very grateful for that.”

For freshman government major Anastasia Rea, the ceremony at the White House had a meaning beyond those of her classmates: Her parents are Australian and, while she was born in the U.S., she has dual citizenship with Australia.

A newcomer to the area from Toledo, Ohio, Rea never expected to visit the White House grounds, especially not in her first semester of college. The thrill of the event, she said, “was mainly about going to the White House, but it being the prime minister from where my parents are from makes it more exciting.”

Sophomore government major Yousef Alakkad said his first visit to the home of the president “was a cool opportunity. Every other time I’ve come here, I’ve been on the other side of the fence [at Lafayette Square], so I can thank George Mason for getting me in.”

One of the benefits of joining the Schar School’s Democracy Lab learning community is exposure to events and experiences specific to legislative government, including meeting congressional leaders and enjoying networking opportunities. The group regularly travels around the Washington, D.C., area to visit key sites, including the U.S. Capitol, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and Smithsonian Museums.

Shad G. Karim, a native of Iraqi Kurdistan whose grandfather served in the Kurdish parliament, said the White House excursion was inspirational.

“Events like these are important,” he said, “especially for government majors because we are the future, we are the ones who are going to be working in government, in places like the White House and the different agencies. These events inspire college students, and it’s definitely inspired me to work harder.

“Hopefully, we get invited to more of these kind of events.”