Author Nathaniel Philbrick Wins 2017 George Washington Prize


Author Nathaniel Philbrick has won the coveted George Washington Prize, including an award of $50,000, for his book, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution (Viking). One of the nation’s largest and most prestigious literary awards and now in its 12th year, the George Washington Prize honors its namesake by recognizing the year’s best new books on the nation’s founding era, especially those that engage a broad public audience. Conferred by George Washington’s Mount Vernon, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and Washington College, the award will be presented to Philbrick on May 25 at a black-tie gala at Mount Vernon.

“To have Valiant Ambition recognized in this way means a tremendous amount to me, especially given the extraordinary quality of the books produced by the other six finalists,” said Philbrick. “My heartfelt thanks to the jurors involved in the selection process and to the George Washington Prize’s sponsoring institutions.”

Valiant Ambition is a surprising account of the middle years of the American Revolution and the tragic relationship between George Washington and Benedict Arnold. Philbrick creates a complex, controversial, and dramatic portrait of a people in crisis and of the war that gave birth to a nation. He focuses on loyalty and personal integrity as he explores the relationship between Washington and Arnold—an impulsive but sympathetic hero whose misfortunes at the hands of self-serving politicians fatally destroy his faith in the legitimacy of the rebellion. As a country wary of tyrants suddenly must figure out how it should be led, Washington’s unmatched ability to rise above the petty politics of his time enables him to win the war that really matters.

“Philbrick brings both careful craftsmanship and propulsive energy to his storytelling—a hallmark of all his widely read and acclaimed books,” says Adam Goodheart, the Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at Washington College. “Moreover, Valiant Ambition is also an impressive feat of research: it offers dramatic episodes that have been largely forgotten, such as a naval battle fought by Arnold on Lake Champlain in 1776, which Philbrick turns into a heart-racing adventure story.”

Established in 2005, the George Washington Prize has honored a dozen leading writers on the Revolutionary era including, Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the hit musical Hamilton. For this year’s prize, a distinguished jury comprised of notable historians David Preston, Kathleen DuVal, and Nick Bunker, selected the finalists from a field of nearly 60 books.

Mount Vernon’s event on May 25 will also honor the six finalists for the 2017 prize:
T.H. Breen, George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation (Simon and Schuster)
Annette Gordon-Reed and Peter S. Onuf, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs”: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination (Liveright Publishing)
Jane Kamensky, A Revolution in Color: The World of John Singleton Copley (W.W. Norton)
Michael J. Klarman, The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (Oxford University Press)
Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone, Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle (University of Oklahoma Press)
Alan Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804 (W.W. Norton)


The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History

Founded in 1994 by philanthropists Richard Gilder and Lewis E. Lehrman, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is the nation’s leading nonprofit American history education organization. The Institute’s mission is to promote the knowledge and understanding of American history through educational programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is supported through the generosity of individuals, corporations, and foundations. The Institute’s programs have been recognized by awards from the White House, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Organization of American Historians.

For more information:

George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Since 1860, more than 85 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernon the most popular historic home in America. A privately-owned national treasure, Mount Vernon is maintained and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Since purchasing the estate from the Washington family and assuming stewardship in 1858, the Association has embraced a heroic mission to preserve, protect, and maintain the estate for the American people, relying exclusively on private donations, admission fees, and restaurant and retail proceeds. Through robust education and outreach programs, the Association expands awareness about the exceptional life and character of George Washington, sustaining his legacy through research, interpretation, and public education. In experiences on the estate and through its digital outreach platforms, Mount Vernon strives to preserve George Washington’s place in history as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” For more information:

Washington College was founded in 1782, the first institution of higher learning established in the new republic. George Washington was not only a principal donor to the college, but also a member of its original governing board. He received an honorary degree from the college in June 1789, two months after assuming the presidency. The college’s C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, which administers the George Washington Prize, is an innovative center for the study of history, culture, and politics, and fosters excellence in the art of written history through fellowships, prizes, and student programs. For more information:

IMF Director Christine Lagarde to Address WC Grads in May


College President Sheila Bair today announced that Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), will give the Commencement Address at Washington College’s 234th Commencement on May 20. An international leader and a trailblazer who has repeatedly transcended barriers in male-dominated fields, Lagarde will receive an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws.

“I am thrilled that our seniors will have the opportunity to hear Christine Lagarde speak at their graduation,” says President Bair. “She has long been a role model for young women who aspire to achieve beyond the artificially imposed, but very real, boundaries of gender in many professions. But her accomplishments as a leader in the law, in international monetary policy, and in promoting economic stability as a way to encourage cooperation between nations, clearly eclipse gender and serve as an inspiration to all.”
Appointed to lead the IMF in 2011 and re-elected to a second term in 2016, Lagarde has guided the institution through some of the world’s most challenging economic times in recent history. From 2007-2011, Lagarde served as Finance Minister of France, becoming the first woman to serve as finance minister for any large advanced economy.
In 2016, she was named one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People.” In the accompanying profile, U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chair Janet Yellen wrote, “Christine was central to the effort to stabilize Greece’s economy and prevent a wider crisis in Europe. She has spurred economic reform in emerging nations like China that have appropriately gained more of a voice at the IMF. She has also given the IMF a more human face by addressing issues like gender and income inequality and public-health threats like the Ebola virus.”
An accomplished lawyer, Lagarde was the first female chairman of the Chicago-based international law firm Baker and McKenzie. In 2009, the Financial Times named her “Best Finance Minister” in the Eurozone, and Forbes magazine named her the ninth most powerful woman in the world.

Created in 1945 at a United Nations conference, the IMF’s main purpose is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system while working to promote global stability through monetary cooperation, encourage economic growth, and reduce global poverty.

Washington College’s 234th Commencement begins at 10:30 a.m. on May 20 and will be held on the Campus Green, weather permitting.

WC-ALL is Planning for Fall!


Washington College’s Academy of Lifelong Learning (WC-ALL) has offered a wonderful selection of courses to the community for well over 20 years.  There are well over 300 community members currently enrolled in WC-ALL’s Spring Semester. Many are retired people who enjoy stimulating discussions, sharing ideas and learning something new. Summer will arrive before we know it and then be gone in a flash; meanwhile WC-ALL is already planning for next fall.

Because organizing multiple classes on numerous subjects is a big task, the curriculum committee is now preparing the course lineup for the Fall Semester.  Members of the general community are invited to submit proposals for classes they would be interested in teaching.  The Fall Semester has two sessions; Session One runs from September 5 to October 13; Session Two from October 22 to December 8.  Classes generally meet once a week on campus in the late afternoon, four to six times during a session, although off-campus venues are occasionally used to accommodate larger classes or for the rare morning or evening course.  Courses may take a variety of forms—lectures, discussions, demonstrations, even off-campus excursions.

Instructors are volunteers as well as members of WC-ALL.  Some are retired college professors who enjoy teaching just for fun; other instructors have been involved in interesting or unusual careers and take pleasure sharing their accumulated knowledge and insights with others.  Lifelong hobbies and avocations also provide a great basis for developing a WC-ALL course that will appeal to like-minded enthusiasts.  The field is wide open and the curriculum committee looks forward to hearing new course ideas from members of the community.

Proposals for courses for WC-ALL’s Fall Semester should be received no later than Thursday, June 1st. They may be submitted online, by email or regular mail to WC-ALL, 300 Washington Avenue, Chestertown, MD 21620.  For a proposal form or more information, please contact curriculum chair Ed Minch at or 410-778-0990 or WC-ALL administrator Sue Calloway at or 410-778-7221 during business hours (M,T, Th 9 to 12).  See you in class!

WC’s Dam the Debt Project Provides $325K to Students to Reduce Education Loans


Washington College President Sheila Bair today announced that the Dam the Debt program will provide $325,581 to reduce the federal subsidized loan debt of 122 seniors who are graduating this May. The grants amount to a back-end scholarship that will award the seniors an average of $2,640, lowering their average federal student loan debt by nearly 10.3 percent.

“When we launched this program last year, it was something of an upstart in higher education, as no college had done this before,” President Bair says. “Now, thanks to our corporate and individual donors who understand the consequences of high student debt, we can continue sending our students into their careers and lives with one less loan to worry about. Hopefully this will enable them to save more, invest sooner, and have more freedom of choice as they move forward into the world.”

Washington College President Sheila Bair

he seniors who qualify for the program have taken out federally subsidized loans for the spring 2017 semester. Through Dam the Debt, those students will receive a grant from the College toward their financial aid package intended to replace the amount of those loans. As a result, the students will see, on average, a 10.27 percent reduction in their total federal loan burden before they even leave campus on graduation day. 

Since its inception in May 2016, the program to date has awarded a total of $659,000 to 252 eligible graduating seniors, with an average grant amount of $2,615.

Dam the Debt is one of several initiatives that President Bair has implemented since her inauguration in September 2015 to make college more affordable and accessible, and to tackle the problem of student loan debt. Funded entirely by donations, the program so far has raised $1.2 million. Among those who have donated to the program are BB&T, bloooom, inc., TD Bank, Santander Bank, Avant, John and Peggy Bacon, and Philip and Joan Riggin.

“We know that when students are burdened by debt, they delay buying homes, cars, and investing for their futures. This becomes a drag not only on them as individuals but on the economy as a whole,” President Bair says. “Anything we can do as an institution to break that cycle, we are working to do.”

In addition to Dam the Debt, the College has launched FixedFor4, which will fix tuition for four years for incoming freshmen, beginning with this fall’s incoming Class of 2021. Last year, the College also announced the Saver’s Scholarship, which will match the amount that families contribute from a 529 college savings plan or an Educational Savings Account, up to $2,500 per year, to pay for their student’s tuition. And through George’s Brigade, another donor-funded program, high-need, high-potential students can receive a full tuition scholarship, in addition to having all of their room and board covered, for four years.

In addition to these new programs, Washington College annually provides more than $23 million in grants and scholarships, with 90 percent of students receiving merit-based scholarships or need-based financial aid.

Learn more at .



PRS Guitars’ Founder Receives Honorary Doctorate from Washington College


Paul Reed Smith, founder and Managing General Partner of PRS Guitars, has received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service from Maryland’s Washington College. The degree, which was in recognition of Paul’s significant achievements as an innovative and creative thinker, was presented to Smith by Washington College President Sheila Bair during a public ceremony on Thursday, April 13.

Paul was recognized for both PRS Guitars, his successful business that has been designing and manufacturing electric guitars and basses, acoustic guitars, and amplifiers for some of the world’s most prestigious musicians for more than 30 years, and also his new cutting-edge company: Digital Harmonic, LLC, which marries art and science with developed image and waveform technology.
“Paul is a remarkable example of entrepreneurial spirit; a kid builds a guitar in high school woodshop and ends up as Managing Partner and Founder of the third largest guitar manufacturer in the US. Many would tell you that the company makes the best electric guitars that have ever been made,” said George Spilich, a professor of psychology and director of the Cromwell Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington College who treasures his own PRS guitar. “Now Paul is taking his expertise in signal processing and pivoting that knowledge into the creation of a signal processing company that has the promise of greatly improving medical imaging. If all that does not merit recognition in the business world, I don’t know what does.”

“I am very appreciative to be recognized by the Department of Business Management at Washington College,” said Paul Reed Smith. “I hope it serves as inspiration to the students, that regardless of where you start, things are possible with determination, a plan and great work ethics.”

Paul joins a prestigious circle of honorary degree recipients that includes U.S. Presidents (including George Washington) and nationally renowned scientists, writers, artists, historians, and statesmen. Paul has visited Washington College on several occasions, offering master classes in music, and performing with the Paul Reed Smith Band.

Aside from Smith’s professional success, he is also dedicated to giving back to the community through PRS Guitars’ fundraising efforts for the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center Living with Cancer program and his mentorship program, which he personally has delivered at dozens of area secondary schools and colleges including Washington College. The mentorship program, which is largely funded by Smith himself, focuses on achieving goals and dreams through positive work ethics and responsibility. Paul is convinced that if he can reach even one student at each program that it is worth his time and effort.

Chestertown Spy Forum on Town-Gown Future


Last Tuesday, the Chestertown Spy sponsored a public forum with Washington College President Sheila Bair and Chestertown Mayor Chris Cerino. The purpose of the event was to have a meaningful conversation with the community about the future of both the town and the school as they adjust to the rather complicated and challenging times of the 21st century.

With the help of the Washington College digital media services, we are able to present the whole meeting in its entirety for our readers benefit.

This video is approximately one hour in length. Please rewind to the beginning to see the entire program. 

Cuban Musician Gato Gatell and Grupo Gato at Washington College


World renowned musician Ernesto “Gato” Gatell and his Grupo Gato will join two Washington College students on April 21 for a singular musical performance of dance, rhythm, percussion, and voice that is guaranteed to light up the Eastern Shore evening with the soul-stirring sounds of Cuba.

Co-sponsored by the Washington College Concert Series and the Cater Society for Junior Fellows, the event at 7:30 p.m.will be in Decker Theater,and features a ten-piece band performing selections of Cuban traditional and popular music. With bass, saxophones, piano, percussion, and a full complement of singers, the group is comprised of an all-star cast of Cuban and American musicians, and will include student performers Michael DeMaio ’18 (saxophone) and Jordana Qi ’18 (voice). Demaio and Qi first met Gatell a during a Washington College January 2017 trip to Cuba, led by Associate Professor of Music Kenneth Schweitzer, and have since been attending rehearsals in Washington, D.C. to prepare for this opportunity.

The featured singer and bandleader, Ernesto “Gato” Gatell, is one of the most recognized and beloved Cuban singers alive today. In 2013, the U.S. Government acknowledged him as a Musician of Extraordinary Ability at the very top of his field both nationally and internationally, thus allowing him to immigrate to America in 2014.

His list of accomplishments over the past 30 years are far too vast to enumerate, but he has recorded and toured with the biggest names in Afro-Cuban music—Clave y Guaguanco, Tata Guines, Changuito, Pancho Quinto, Rumberos de Cuba, Conjunto Folklorico Nacional de Cuba, Puntilla, Hilario Duran, Jane Bunnett; and he has been a member of several Cuban All-Star groups. His recordings have been nominated for and/or won the top music industry awards in three countries—the U.S. Grammy, the Canadian Juno, and the Cuban CubaDisco.

For this concert, in addition to the WC students, Gatell will be joined by Paul Austerlitz (saxophone), David Marsh (bass), Raciel Suarez (piano), Steve Bloom (percussion), Oscar Rousseaux (percussions), Yudisleidy Valdez Mena (voice & dance), and Indira Martínez Ayala (voice).

Individual tickets are $20 (adults) and $15 (non-WC College students/seniors over age 65/WC faculty and staff). WC students and youth 18 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased online with a credit card via EventBrite, or with cash or check at the door. Inquiries and ticket holds can be sent to Debbie Reed at or 410-778-7839. Online tickets and additional information on the series is available at

Writer and Scholar Jonathan Rauch at Washington College April 19


Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and National Journal, and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, will give a talk entitled “Unpresidented: Governing in the Age of Chaos,” on April 19 at Washington College.

The program, which begins at 5 p.m. in Decker Theatre, Gibson Center for the Arts, is sponsored by the College’s Richard Holstein Program in Ethics, which promotes ethics education in the classroom, across campus, and in the community. The talk is free and open to the public.

Rauch will discuss the first months of the Trump presidency and its implications for American politics. Rauch’s recent articles for The Atlantic include “Containing Trump” (March 2017), “What Obama Got Right” (December 2016), and “How American Politics Went Insane” (July/August 2016). Rauch is the author of five books on American politics and culture.

The deliberate misspelling of “unprecedented” in the talk’s title derives from a December tweet from then President-elect Trump in which he said, “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters—rips it out of water and takes it to China in unpresidented act.” The tweet was later resent with correct spelling, but the correction did little to lessen concerns about increased tensions between China and the U.S. over Trump’s rhetoric, even before he took office, about trade and policy toward Taiwan.

For more information, contact Michael Harvey, Director of the Richard Holstein Program in Ethics,, 410-778-7889.

Author Barbara Ehrenreich Discusses Work in America April 14


Barbara Ehrenreich, best-selling author and a leading thinker and writer on work and labor in America, will give a keynote lecture on April 14 as part of the month-long series of public humanities programs that complement the Smithsonian traveling exhibition, “The Way We Worked.”

From her landmark book, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, to her recent New York Times Magazine article “Divisions of Labor,” Ehrenreich has explored the ins and outs—and ups and downs—of working class America.With her characteristic frankness and humor, Ehrenreich will share insights gleaned over four decades of reporting from the frontlines of the American workplace.

The free, public event, sponsored by the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, starts at 5:30 p.m. at Hynson Lounge, Hodson Hall on the Washington College campus. A book-signing will follow, and copies of Ehrenreich’s books will be available for purchase.

The daughter of a miner, Ehrenreich was born in Butte, Montana, which she recalls as “a bustling, brawling, blue collar mining town.”A social and political activist, Ehrenreich describes herself as “a myth buster by trade.” She is a widely read and award-winning columnist and the author of 21 books. Ehrenreich’s New York Times bestselling book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, is a memoir of her three-month social experiment trying to survive on minimum wage while working as a waitress, hotel maid, house cleaner, nursing-home aide, and Wal-Mart clerk. In her later work, Bait and Switch, Ehrenreich enters another hidden realm of the economy: the shadowy world of the white-collar unemployed. As corporations take pride in “rightsizing,” those who have been “let go” discover that job searching becomes a full-time job in itself.

The talk is part of the month-long, community wide exhibition “The Way We Worked,” based at Chestertown’s Sumner Hall.“The Way We Worked” has been made possible in Maryland by Maryland Humanities and is part of Museum on Main Street, a collaboration between the Smithsonian Institution and State Humanities Councils nationwide.