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Hoya Saxa – What does it mean to be a Georgetown Hoya?

On November 2nd, Professor Andrew Screen and I (ELC’s Student Services Manager) gave a workshop at the ELC covering a topic near to the heart of Georgetown students and alumni everywhere: What does it mean to be a Hoya? Over the course of his workshop, we shared some history and traditions of Georgetown, explained a few of Georgetown’s values, and exhorted ELC students to be people for others. That, in a nutshell, is what being a Hoya is all about. 

Starting with the word itself, many people may know that Georgetown students are called “Hoyas,” but what is a Hoya anyway? Back when Georgetown was young, the campus was lined by beautiful stone walls. These walls became a nickname for the popular football team, the Stonewalls, who were known for playing like solid walls on the field. Students back then were required to learn ancient Greek and Latin, and they came up with a phrase to cheer on the Stonewalls that combined the Greek word, “hoya,” for “what,” with the Latin word “saxa” for “rocks.” “Hoya Saxa,” meaning “what rocks!” became the cheer that would eventually become synonymous with Georgetown. What is a Hoya? What is a Hoya, indeed. 

Next, having graduated from the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in 2016, I shared some of my favorite Hoya traditions and events. Some great Georgetown traditions include going to the bar The Tombs on your 21st birthday, where they ink your forehead with the entry stamp instead of your wrist; running down to the White House for impromptu parties when important political events occur, such as presidential elections; and finding a time to take a seat on the lap of the large statue of John Carroll, Georgetown’s founder and a Jesuit priest. I also fondly recalled events I participated in as an undergrad, including the all-day celebrations on the last day of class called Georgetown Day, events with political figures like President Bill Clinton and Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor, and the Senior Ball when all of DC’s Union Station was rented out for a formal dance. 

However, Georgetown is so much more than just a university with fun events; it is an institution with a soul. Georgetown is guided by a set of principles called the Spirit of Georgetown, which are rooted in Catholic, Jesuit, and Humanist values. Two important values are Contemplation in Action and Cura Personalis, or care of the whole person, and the workshop participants took turns sharing what those principles meant to them. Finally, Prof. Screen introduced an important value, People for Others, with a story of Hoya generosity from his own life. Several years ago, Prof. Screen emailed a dozen Georgetown professors he barely knew asking if they would be willing to let ELC students participate in their classes. He was not expecting many responses and even fewer yeses. However, he was amazed when only a few minutes later he heard back from a professor who was very enthusiastic and wanted to help out as much as she could. He soon heard back from many more, all eager to help and give the ELC students more opportunities to learn. Instead of being ignored, Prof. Screen was thanked for helping make Georgetown a more international and welcoming place; what he witnessed was Hoyas helping Hoyas; people for others. 

Finally, Prof. Screen issued a challenge to the workshop participants: what are you doing to be people for others? He invited them to take an active involvement in embodying the Spirit of Georgetown, to share stories about the generosity they had experienced, and especially to put their thoughts into action. When the workshop ended, the ELC students came away with more than just a better understanding of what it means to be a Hoya; they were empowered to set forth and be Hoyas for others.

Author Daniel Graff is the Student Services Manager with the English Language Center.