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George Mason University capped its 50th anniversary year by honoring more than 5,000 graduates at Winter Commencement, celebrating an esteemed class that bridges Mason to its second half-century as an independent university. A persistent cold drizzle dampened tassels on the honorees’ walk to EagleBank Arena but did not dilute the sense of accomplishment of the beaming scholars donning them.
During a ceremony livestreamed on Mason’s YouTube channel, Mason President Gregory Washington noted that this was Mason’s first graduating class of the endemic phase of the pandemic. He shared a few lighthearted tips for succeeding in the “new normal,” from fashion advice to telework etiquette. But his main point was that by earning a degree from a top research university, and working alongside diverse students and faculty, Mason’s newest graduates are prepared to take on the many grand challenges that require their energy and innovation.
The 2022 winter graduates hailed from 63 countries, 44 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and military installations. Decorative mortarboard messages in multiple languages underscored the honorees’ range of backgrounds.
“Working across cultures, and across diversity of origin, identity, circumstance, and thought allows you to see the world more completely, to think more creatively, and examine full truths,” Washington said. “It’s all part of what makes George Mason University ’All Together Different.’”
Mason awarded more than 4,700 bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and law degrees, as well as nearly 400 certificates. In keeping with tradition, Washington asked first-generation graduates to stand—about one in four of the 2,881 bachelor’s degree earners—as well as graduates who attended community colleges. Both elicited green waves of rising graduates met by rousing ovations.
Washington singled out several graduates, including a 73-year-old earning a master’s degree in art history, an electrical engineering major who founded an inventors club, a bioengineering PhD candidate who is making breakthroughs in cancer detection, and a health systems management master’s degree recipient whose data analysis and writing have been included in congressional reports.
“These are terrific examples of the audacity that defines so many Mason students, and the opportunities available to them at this university,” Washington said.
Washington and Mason Rector Horace Blackman presented an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters to guest speaker Gregory W. Fowler, the University of Maryland Global Campus president. Fowler earned his master’s degree in English from Mason in 1995. He reflected on his humanities-based education and how it prepared him for the future. “At the core, the humanities are about what it means to be human, the artifacts we produce and our relationships to them.”
He also encouraged the graduates to embrace with humility the fact that education reminds us of how little we will ever know.
“Many of you will struggle with and have to overcome what we call ‘imposter syndrome,’” Fowler said, “that nagging sense or expectation that everybody else has already figured something out coupled with that fleeting hope that, at some point in the future, you will figure it out as well, no longer burdened by fear or uncertainty…. Don’t wait for your fear or anxieties to go away. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is the ability to persevere in the presence of fear.”
Provost Mark Ginsberg introduced the student speaker, mechanical engineering graduate Yasmin Imani Alamin. She recalled four lessons she learned while attending Mason, setbacks that tested her will but bolstered her resolve and helped make her and the other graduates “capable of attacking our greatest ambitions.” Each lesson she highlighted drew warm applause throughout the arena.
“Struggle means you’re on the path to victory and the struggle will always be proportional to what you’re trying to achieve,” Alamin said. “Big wins require big battles and though it hurts at the time, be confident that if you are sincere in your efforts the hard days mean you are on the right track. If everything is easy, that is when you should be concerned.”
Alamin will work at the U.S Department of Transportation as a liquefied natural gas facility design engineer.
Christine Landoll, BS Accounting ’89, MS Taxation ’92, Alumni Association president and a School of Business professor, welcomed the new graduates to the alumni group and encouraged their continued engagement with Mason, reminding them of the network of 220,000 Patriots they have joined.
“Now you have the power of this big family that has walked in your shoes,” Landoll said. “There is likely an alum in any industry you are joining. There is likely an alum in any location that you are settling in. This is an incredible network that you can leverage.”
The top five majors for undergraduates earning degrees are business; psychology; criminology, law and society; computer science; and information technology.
The top five degrees for the 1,658 master’s graduates are special education, data analytics engineering, curriculum and instruction, business administration, and nursing.
The top five majors for the 163 doctorate degree earners, who will be recognized by name and cross the stage at the ceremony, are education, psychology, information technology, electrical and computer engineering, and biosciences. There also are 13 law graduates.
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