George Mason University: From a branch campus to a global powerhouse: Mason celebrates 50 years

George Mason University celebrated its 50th birthday Thursday, April 7, with a green and gold tribute to its accomplishments and a look ahead to the next 50 years.

Hundreds of people attended the celebration in the Johnson Center on the Fairfax Campus to remember the university’s humble beginnings in the elementary school at Bailey’s Crossroads and marvel at its current status as the most inclusive, most diverse and innovative public university in Virginia.

With the photo of her late father, Gov. A. Linwood Holton Jr., signing the bill separating George Mason College from the University of Virginia as a backdrop, Anne Holton, former Virginia Secretary of Education, faculty member and former Mason interim president, spoke about the importance of Mason in the region and the commonwealth.

“It is a source of real pride for me that my family has played a meaningful role in the rise of this university,” Holton said. “My father recognized the educational and economic impact that a major institution of higher education could have in the Northern Virginia community and on the entire commonwealth.”

Jimmy Hazel reflected on the contributions of his late father, John ‘Til’ Hazel, to building the university, including acquiring more than 400 acres for the Fairfax Campus and helping to broker the deal to acquire the law school. The elder Hazel passed away just a few weeks ago.

“I know there was only one ‘Til’ Hazel, but I see so many people with the same brand of tireless commitment and Patriot commitment that he displayed. … I find it reassuring that this place is in good hands for decades to come.”

Comparing Mason’s relative youth to the age of our more established regional peers, Hazel said: “At Mason we are writing our own success story, not just reciting someone else’s.”

Mason President Gregory Washington highlighted the Hazel family along with other Mason supporters such as Gov. Holton, Sid Dewberry, John Toups, Earle Williams, Milt Peterson and Dwight Schar. Their work to create Fairfax as a destination for learning, commerce and government was chronicled by Pulitzer-prize-nominated author Russ Banham, who spoke Thursday afternoon as part of the 50th anniversary celebration.

President Washington also announced a transformational gift from Barry Dewberry and his wife, Arlene Evans, for the Center for the Arts. Dewberry is the son of longtime Mason supporter Sid Dewberry.

“There is one thing that 50 years has not changed, and that is the love and devotion our original supporters and their families have for Mason,” Washington said. “They have given, and given, and given to help build this place.”

Also speaking at the event were Virginia Secretary of Education Aimee Rogstad Guidera, Mason Board of Vice President of Advancement and Alumni Relations and President of the George Mason University Foundation Trishana Bowden, student body President Natalia Kanos, and president of the Graduate and Professional Student Association Steven Zhou.

The crowd also heard from special guests Lamar Butler Jr., BA Communication ’06, and Folarin Campbell, BA Communication ’08, from the 2006 Final Four men’s basketball team. Campbell has returned to Mason as the assistant director of the Patriot Club.

Sumeet Shrivastava, MBA ’94, and president of the Alumni Association, shared that he was able to enroll at Mason for a graduate degree program even though he not finished his bachelor’s degree several years prior.

“They listened and they understood that I was more than the undergraduate degree I did not have and took a chance on me. That’s what Mason does,” Shrivastava said. “Mason opens doors, Mason says yes when others say no.”

The event Thursday capped a week of activities including the dedication of the Enslaved People of George Mason Memorial and the groundbreaking for Fuse at Mason Square. Thursday also marked Mason Vision Day, the university’s annual giving day. This year, fundraising efforts were focused on the Green Machine ensembles. The day also saw the unofficial launch of the university’s new brand campaign and slogan, All Together Different.

Washington closed by looking to the future and talking about the world Mason students will enter after graduation.

“It is getting more diverse, more technology driven, more crowded, and more affected by climate conditions. Our job is to keep pace with that change,” he said. “That tireless drive to repair the world of today, and build the world of tomorrow, is truly what unites us all. And we know the world is going change. Because together—we will be the ones who change it.”

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