In the Murfreesboro High School auditorium, a student sits captivated by the television in front of him. A smattering of students—one or two here, another there—come and go; a few of the high school teachers do too, but no one bothers the young man. He’s entranced, sucked in by what’s transpiring on the television. It’s history—live. It’s a political scandal that was to reverberate for decades. It’s 1973. It’s Watergate. And it’s all teenage Greg Nelson, BA ’78, can think about.
The Watergate Scandal was a defining and memorable political moment for a whole generation of Americans. From East Coast to West—in metropolitan centers and small American towns like Murfreesboro, Arkansas (population 1,320)—the nation tuned in to watch the U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, better known as the Senate Watergate Committee, each and every day. A 16-year old Greg Nelson was no different.
Greg says he was completely focused on the Watergate hearings and would set up the school’s only television on the auditorium stage and watch the hearings from the front row. Because the hearings were held during the day, this meant that he needed to skip some of his classes in order to watch them.
“From time to time, a teacher or another student would sit down to help me watch, but it was important that they do so silently,” he recalls. “To their credit, none of the faculty or the principal suggested that my time might be better spent in the classroom.”
For an hour or so each evening after school, Greg tuned in to PBS to watch a GW Law professor make a presentation on what transpired at the hearings during the day, something he says was very helpful to a 16-year old who needed someone to interpret what he had seen. He was hooked—on not just Washington, D.C., but also on the George Washington University.
“I had been bitten by the Washington bug,” Greg says. “I applied to GW in the fall of 1973 primarily because I had already received a valuable GW education each evening courtesy of that GW Law professor on PBS.”
Despite taking the only foreign language class his high school had to offer, Greg says he fell well short of GW’s language requirements and was generally not prepared for GW’s curriculum when he arrived on campus in the fall of 1974. That led him to being placed on academic probation on the first day of his first semester at GW.
While most students wouldn’t tout their time on academic probation, Greg says the one-on-one guidance he received during his first year got his time at the university started off on the right foot.
“Academic advisers usually do not have much to do until after the first semester grades come out, so I received lots of personal attention,” remembers Greg, who quickly worked himself off of academic probation after two strong semesters.
The tenacity for learning that drove Greg to his high school auditorium to watch the Watergate hearings each day quickly rose to the surface during his time as a GW student. The economics major explored substantive areas that he didn’t know existed, continued to study Latin after fulfilling his language requirement, and picked up problem-solving and writing skills that would benefit him throughout the rest of his life.
“No one got more out of college than I did,” he says. “I was a kid in a candy store.”
After graduating from GW, Greg attended law school at the University of Virginia. The rigorous program of study designed by his economics professors (especially Professor Tony Yezer’s “true/false and why” exams) and his time spent studying Latin (the language of the law) left Greg well prepared for the challenges of law school.
Currently the chair of the Houston office for Paul Hastings, LLP, one of the top law firms in the country, Greg has now practiced law for 34 years. He also serves as vice chair of Houston Methodist Hospital’s board of directors and joined the National Advisory Council for Arts in Sciences (NCAS) at GW’s Columbian College in 2014. None of this would be possible, he says, without the George Washington University.
Greg was able to make the most of his GW education thanks to the partial scholarships he received during his four years as an undergrad, and his gratitude for those scholarships has led Greg to support GW with a gift every year since 1989.
“I have always appreciated the fact that GW took a chance on admitting a student like me,” says Greg, “and, by the grace of some former student’s generosity, part of my tuition was paid so I could earn this excellent education.”
Greg often wonders what the GW Admissions committee members thought when they saw his application—“I’m sure that some strong-willed member with a dissenting view prevailed on the notion that GW should take a chance and see how things worked out with me,” he says—but he’s never had a second thought about giving back to support the university and its students.
Greg considers his support of GW more than just paying back the education and support the university gave him as a student—he’s paying it forward to the next generation of students drawn to GW and Washington, D.C., the way he was.
“Not all students can afford a GW education; I certainly could not,” says Greg. “Philanthropy can help GW get the right talent in our doors, including those students who do not have the ability to pay the full freight.”
Visit campaign.gwu.edu to learn how you can join passionate donors like Greg Nelson, BA ’78, in supporting students at GW. Are you a loyal Colonial? Let us know — we want to hear your story. Email us at email@example.com today!