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GW students win CGI U challenge as Clinton, Stewart close conference

Jon Stewart speaks with former-President Bill Clinton during the closing remarks Saturday in Lisner Auditorium for the Clinton Global Initiative University. Marie McGrory | Hatchet Staff Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporter Kelly Quinn. 

Former President Bill Clinton announced that three GW students won a Clinton Global Initiative University challenge before engaging with “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart in the conference’s closing conversation Saturday at Lisner Auditorium.

Engineering students Matthew Wilkins and Jon Torrey and business school student Chris Deschenes took home first prize in a bracket of student ideas with their sustainable bamboo bicycles, dubbed Panda Cycles, which has “staggering potential,” Clinton said.

“There’s so much to do in the world and people need to know about it,” Torrey, a graduate student, said of his group’s commitment to action, which will look to help people in Africa by providing affordable transportation.

Clinton presented the trio with a basketball signed “Bill Clinton #42,” signifying his mark as the 42nd president. The group earned the most votes after two weeks of online voting.

“The last thing we expected coming into this was to walk away with a basketball signed by the president,” Deschenes said.

Clinton opened up the discussion by saying students could make a difference in ways beyond ambitious commitments, like bringing the issue of prescription drug abuse to light on college campuses.

The former president alluded to the death of 28-year-old GW graduate student Benjamin Gupta, who died in his sleep in December from a mix of drugs and alcohol. Clinton was a friend of Gupta’s family.

The hosts, as well as students who asked questions, brought up a variety of issues ranging from the mistreatment of women in Afghanistan to juvenile crime.

To an Afghan student’s question about what to do when your commitment puts you at physical risk, like venturing to the country’s dangerous regions, Clinton called the situation a “horrible dilemma,” and reiterated later the importance of finding inspiration to move forward.

Although Stewart cut back on his signature satirical humor throughout the conversation with Clinton, he could not resist cracking a joke about Panda Cycles, saying: “I made a bong out of an apple once, and now I know I should have used bamboo.”

Another student asked about the negative impacts of foreign aid, to which Stewart chuckled, “She must have meant people being sick of Bono.”

At the close, Stewart told the attendees, “I’ve rarely been in a room where I’ve felt like I’d like to work for every one of you.”

On Sunday, students will participate in service projects across the D.C. area, with expected guests Clinton and Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s delegate in Congress.

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