New writing award honors life of Marine, D.C. native

From left to right: Yannick Baptiste (President-GW Veterans), Bell Clement (Sgt. Chase's mother), Emily Niekrasz (inaugural recipient), Ely Ross (Director of DC Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs), Tyler McManus (Undergraduate Outreach Coordinator - GW Veterans)

From left to right: Yannick Baptiste (President-GW Veterans), Bell Clement (Sgt. Chase's mother), Emily Niekrasz (inaugural recipient), Ely Ross (Director of DC Mayor's Office of Veterans Affairs), Tyler McManus (Undergraduate Outreach Coordinator - GW Veterans)

by Taylor Galgano | Hatchet Reporter

Just months before Sgt. Julian Clement Chase was set to begin his first year at GW in 2012, the U.S. Marine was killed in action in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

To honor his memory, his family created a scholarship to help other students live out their son’s passions for writing and connecting with the D.C. community. The gift, a $1,000 prize that will be awarded each year by the University Writing Program, is given to students whose writing centers on the District, where Chase grew up.

Chase’s mother, Bell Clement, a professorial lecturer of history at GW, said although her son never attended the University, she hopes the gift will recognize the creative work that reflects what Chase could have created as a student.

“He was going to be making big contributions here, and we had to make that happen, nonetheless,” Clement said.

The prize will be awarded yearly to a student or students who produce pieces of writing or research “demonstrating in-depth engagement with Washington, D.C.,” according to the University Writing Program’s website.

On Thursday, Chase’s family and about 20 others gathered at the GW Museum and Textile Museum for the first award ceremony.

Chase attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Tenleytown, where he explored his creative and academic sides through writing and photography, his mother said. He joined an after-school writing program that encouraged students to journal together and brought in guest authors to speak to the group.

Even while serving overseas, Chase maintained this devotion to writing, she said.

“One of the things that I’m gladdest to know is that while he was deployed, he had begun to keep journals,” Clement said. “I had always encouraged this. Being deployed, you’re seeing some remarkable things, and you’re going to want to have a record of it.”

Clement said her son wanted to attend GW because he viewed it as a challenging institution that “valued excellence.”

“I know he wanted to be challenged,” Clement said. “It was important to him to be in a place that was demanding. He really wanted to be able to come here.”

The Clement family wanted to honor Chase's love for D.C. through the award, his mother said.

“He enjoyed bragging he was from D.C., and he was interested in the city,” Clement said. “One of the things I enjoyed was watching Julian explore Washington. If you’re a 16-year-old guy, you’re seeing the city in a much different way than your mom sees it. It was wonderful to see the city through his eyes.”

Clement said she hopes the award will encourage students to explore the city and develop research around what they find. If her son were a student, she thinks that he would have applied for similar awards, she added.

This year’s prize winners, Kaeleigh Christie and Emily Niekrasz, will split the $1,000 award.

Christie, who studied sociology before graduating in the spring, said her research about truancy in D.C. public schools that earned her the prize ended up shaping her career path.

“I am currently in law school and am more determined than ever to pursue a career where I will be in a better position to look out for others and make a difference in the community to ensure people are not being left behind,” Christie said.

Niekrasz, who is in her first year of the museum studies graduate program, won the award with her senior thesis that focused on the ties between D.C. and the Civil Rights Movement.

She said she hopes the award will encourage others to explore D.C.’s history and will commemorate Chase’s life.

“I definitely think this is a great way for him to be remembered,” Niekrasz said. “It was an awful, awful tragedy, and I really think that it’s going to be a nice way for his life to live on.”

Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, said Chase would likely have graduated with a bachelor’s degree last year and could have been an influential part of veterans’ close-knit community.

Baptiste said he connects with Chase’s story because they had similar military backgrounds, and both were making arrangements to attend GW while they were still overseas, he said.

“I have had the opportunity to get involved with GW and all it has to offer, and Julian’s time was cut short,” Baptiste said. “I could have very well had the same fate, and remembering those I worked with and other service members like Julian, even during the most trying of days, provides perspective and the motivation to never undervalue what you have.”