George Washington never attended college or high school, but he did earn the equivalent of an elementary school education in Virginia in the mid-1700s.

With the help of the Masonic Unanimity Lodge No. 418 on Hilton Head Island, our first president, who was a freemason himself at the age of 20, is heading back to class … sort of.

A high-quality print of a full-length portrait depicting Washington in civilian clothes is being offered by the lodge for $150 in a fundraising campaign.

The organization’s goal is to have the print hanging in all 38 schools in the Beaufort County School District by February, prior to Washington’s birthday on the 22nd.

“It’s a powerful iconic image,” said James Barron, current master mason of the local fraternal organization. “We need to put George back in school so George can meet the kids of today, and they can teach George about what’s going on now.”

The 3×4-foot print is custom-framed, double-matted and will include an engraved plaque with the buyer-sponsor’s name and other information. Proceeds from the fundraiser will benefit the local chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), one of the many charitable projects the freemasons conduct throughout the year.

The Beaufort and Port Royal lodges also will participate in the initiative, which began in the spring.

A Pennsylvania senator commissioned artist Gilbert Stuart in 1796 to paint his 64-year-old subject 219 years ago. The painting was presented to the British prime minister as a gift of appreciation. The original oil on canvas Lansdowne portrait, as it is commonly known, now hangs permanently in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

“The values and structures that were put in place by Washington and the Founding Fathers (in the Constitution) still resonate as things that should be looked up to,” Barron said. “This portrait will provide a mental click … it does matter and I think it matters a lot.” Barron hopes the portrait will inspired dialog among students, especially the younger ones, about what the Constitution stands for, its relevance today and early American history in general.

The portrait project launched three years ago in Spartanburg at the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons for the state of South Carolina. It reached the local level earlier this year because the former grand master’s son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at a young age, and the momentum carried forward to the 70-member Hilton Head lodge for a general vote. The chronic autoimmune disease afflicts youth by shutting down their body’s ability to produce insulin.

“This is really worthy of our time, energy and money,” Barron said, noting that it reflects the fraternal organization’s core principles of “faith, hope and charity.”

For more information and to purchase a portrait, call Barron at 843-341-5513 or visit www.scgrandlodgeafm.org.

Dean Rowland is a veteran senior editor and freelance writer living in Bluffton.