Making History

Weston D. Burnett, JD ’75, LLM ’83, with his wife, Barbara, and Dean Blake D. Morant

GW Launches $1 Billion Philanthropic Campaign

GW Law is poised to take a giant leap forward following the formal launch June 20 of an ambitious, $1 billion universitywide campaign—Making History: The Campaign for GW. The record-breaking, comprehensive philanthropic effort to support GW’s vision and priorities was publicly launched this summer following a three-year, behind-the-scenes silent phase. The university is already more than halfway toward its historic goal, with nearly 47,000 donors having contributed more than $600 million to the campaign. Reaching the $1 billion goal by June 2018 will enable the university and all its constituent groups to implement GW’s new strategic plan, Vision 2021, which was unanimously adopted by the Board of Trustees in 2013.

Focusing on student support, enhancing academics, and breaking new ground, the Making History campaign will generate breakthroughs that affect millions of lives, as well as partnerships between GW and influential organizations around the world. It will provide the university’s students in each school and college with the resources and opportunities to make history. The success of the campaign will lead to profound, positive changes for every facet of life at GW—creating opportunities embodying President George Washington’s long-ago vision of a university in the nation’s capital that would serve as America’s intellectual hub and produce citizen leaders. For GW as a whole, the university’s growing international research reputation, newly created cross-disciplinary institutes and academic opportunities, and recruitment of the best students and faculty all contribute to its present and future vigor as a diverse community of living and learning in the heart of Washington, D.C.

The George Washington University Law School is proud of its leadership role within the wider GW community, embracing the Vision 2021 strategic plan and aspiring to attain a record-breaking goal of $116 million for the Making History campaign. GW Law has received $46 million in gifts and pledges for the campaign and needs to raise an additional $70 million. Meeting the challenge of reaching that bold and significant goal demands courageous and inspired leadership. GW Law is, therefore, grateful to Weston D. Burnett, JD ’75, LLM ’83, for his willingness to serve as the chair of Making History: The Campaign for the George Washington University Law School through July 2016. 

Mr. Burnett and his wife, Barbara, have given or pledged more than $1 million to the law school over their lifetimes. Most recently, they created an endowed position to establish the Burnett Family International and Comparative Law and Policy Studies Dean’s Fund. This fund will provide support for the International and Comparative Law Program, which focuses on globalization, cross-disciplinary collaboration, citizenship, and public policy. These four elements are the main prongs of the Vision 2021 strategic plan. They also reflect the Burnetts’ personal values and family heritage. Mr. Burnett earned his LLM in international law, and several family members have been, or are, involved in international law or international affairs.

Mr. Burnett says he appreciates the intellectual integrity and skills he learned at GW Law. His 27-year career in the Navy as a judge advocate general gave him an opportunity to practice every kind of law that is taught at the school, he adds, and he values the broad exposure he received at his alma mater, as well as learning how to think and how to ask questions. 

Today, Mr. Burnett is the managing partner of Cohen & Burnett, PC, Attorneys and Counselors at Law, and president and CEO of OptiFour Integrated Wealth Management, LLC. He helps his clients and their families realize their life goals by espousing an integrated, strategic approach to legal, tax, and financial planning.

The Burnetts share an appreciation for the spirit of volunteerism that they find at GW, which they consider an “amazing attribute.” Mr. Burnett has served as a member of the university’s Board of Trustees since July 1, 2013, and recently served on the search committee for the new law school dean, Blake D. Morant. He is also a past president and executive committee member of the board of directors of the GW Law Alumni Association and former chair of the law school’s Dean’s Fund. He was co-chair of his reunion class committee for his 35th reunion in 2010 and has joined the committee for his 40th reunion in 2015. He received the George Washington University Alumni Outstanding Service Award in 2010.

Mr. Burnett says that in addition to striving to meet GW Law’s fundraising goal, one of the biggest challenges is to reengage past classes, adding it is “not just about writing a check.” He points out that there are many ways for law school alumni to become involved, such as by sharing their experiences with current GW Law students as mentors, hiring law school graduates, attending alumni events in their area, and returning for reunions.

Mr. and Mrs. Burnett’s generosity of spirit and support echoes the tagline of the Making History campaign: “Together we will answer our namesake’s call.” GW Law’s overall goal of $116 million with $70 million still to be raised may seem daunting, but by working together, giving back to the community of legal scholars and students that is the foundation of our success, we can do it.

By Ann McClellan