DANIEL SMITH/THE HOYA Students enjoyed free food from Hilltoss and the Georgetown University Grilling Society during the Healey Family Student Center soft opening celebration Friday afternoon.
Students enjoyed free food from Hilltoss and the Georgetown University Grilling Society during the Healey Family Student Center soft opening celebration Friday afternoon.

The Healey Family Student Center opened to students Friday with an all-day celebration that included tours, free food and a casino night. The center, which has been in construction since last August, provides students with over 43,000 square feet of space. The building includes a great room, 12 study rooms, three private conference rooms, two dance studios and four music rooms.

The event began with speeches from university administrators including Father Kevin O’Brien, S.J. (CAS ’88), Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Olson, Provost Robert Groves and Director of the Center for Student Engagement Erika Cohen Derr. Prior commitments prevented the presence of University President John J. DeGioia, who will attend the center’s dedication in October.

The event began with a blessing from O’Brien, who said that the space represents new opportunities for student growth and change on campus.

“Bless all of our activity that will make this space a new home for us at Georgetown, a gathering space where bonds are made and deepened among us,” O’Brien said. “We celebrate with great joy today all of the bounty knowing that we are called to give what we have received in such abundance.”

O’Brien and Olson said they remembered the space as it was 11 years ago, when it served as a dining hall for campus.

“You heard that when the ultra-modern New South residence hall opened in 1958, this was the main dining hall. It remained that way until the year 2003,” Olson said. “I remember laughter and conversations, which will now come back to this place.”

As an alumnus, O’Brien said that he was pleased to see such expansive change to a space that he once loved.

“We remember fondly this space as the New South Dining Hall. Believe me, it is much improved. On behalf of the alumni community, thank you,” O’Brien said.

Olson said that the HFSC surpassed his expectations and excellently embodies the university’s spirit.

“We have our living greenery on our Hoya Saxa wall — which looks even better than I imagined — we have the comfort and coziness of our breakout rooms, we have the sunny breezy terrace that will open in just a few weeks, we have dance studios upstairs and we have the spirit of Georgetown, alive and well and good and noisy already,” Olson said.

According to Groves, the center represents a new step towards a more cohesive, unified student body, joined together by place.

“We have the strongest academic programs in the world, we have wonderful student clubs and organizations, we have devoted student-athletes and intercollegiate competition, we have campus ministry that serves a variety of needs and through spaces like this, we can gather together to study, to relax, to have fun and to reflect among our peers,” Groves said. “This is all by way of saying that we think at Georgetown, place matters. We can’t do what’s going to go on here in a virtual network system. We have to be face to face, looking at one another in the eyes, and we have to learn what makes others tick, and this is what this kind of space is about.”

The official blessing and dedication of the center will occur Oct. 8.

The HFSC will soon include the pub, Bulldog Tavern, opening Oct. 31, Hilltoss, the new Students of Georgetown Inc. venue, opening Nov. 1 and outdoor terrace Riverside Lounge, opening in four to six weeks.

The terrace, funded by $2.2 million from the Student Activities Fund, was entirely designed and developed by students. According to Olson, without students, the space would never have become a reality.

“My final gratitude is given to the students, because so many students, current and past for more than a decade now have spent hours and hours dreaming about, imagining, arguing over and redesigning and building support for this space,” Olson said. “It is a remarkable story, as there usually is at Georgetown, about student initiatives and ownership, so all of these students, past and present, have made this come to life.”

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