George Mason University: Mason’s winter 2021 graduates are prepared to prosper in the new reality

The George Mason University community came together on the Fairfax Campus on Thursday to celebrate more than 4,600 graduates.

The two Winter Graduation events at EagleBank Arena, and a doctoral hooding in the Center for the Arts Concert Hall, were also livestreamed on Mason’s YouTube channel.

This year’s graduating class, comprising summer and winter graduates, hailed from 59 countries and 43 states.

Mason President Gregory Washington praised the graduates for their adaptability and determination. He noted that they are prepared to lead in a post-pandemic environment because they both adapted to change and generated change themselves by creating “a hybrid way of living, learning and working.”

“You might not realize it,” Washington said, “but the ‘real world’ is trying to catch up to you. You are more prepared to prosper in the new reality than many who already live in it.”

Twenty-eight percent of the graduates being honored reported being in the first generation of their families to earn a four-year degree. At each ceremony, Washington asked the first-gen graduates to stand, resulting in a rising wave of green robes that elicited admiration from the thousands of masked guests on hand.

Mason fortified its standing as the leading producer of tech talent in Virginia—37% of the 3,027 bachelor’s degree earners, and 27% of the 1,617 graduate degree earners, majored in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Featured speaker Shaza Andersen, BA Area Studies ’89, founder and CEO of Trustar Bank, encouraged the graduates to continue to embrace change as opportunity, a lesson she learned at age 13 when her family moved to the United States to escape civil war in Lebanon.

Andersen, who worked her way up from bank teller to bank founder, in 2004 started WashingtonFirst Bank, which grew to $2.1 billion in assets. She founded Trustar Bank in 2019 with much of the same successful team.

“None of this happened overnight and it certainly wasn’t accomplished alone,” Andersen said. “It’s important to have the courage to take risks and trust people to be part of the journey along the way.”

Washington and Mason Rector Jimmy Hazel conferred on Andersen an honorary degree of doctor of humane letters.

At the hooding ceremony later Thursday afternoon, Washington congratulated the new PhDs for not allowing the pandemic to derail their career aspirations.

“You’ve shown that academic passion is unstoppable,” Washington said. “The burn to learn cannot be denied. So you not only helped students discover or refine their own academic passions, you’ve shown them what it takes to finish the job.”

Mason Provost Mark Ginsberg noted that less than 2% of the U.S. population holds a doctoral degree. “You have chosen a path that provides a rampway to great achievements and consequential impact,” he said.

Washington advised the new PhDs to be flexible in their research pursuits as events warrant, citing several examples of Mason faculty who stepped away from ongoing projects to focus on various scientific and social challenges posed by COVID-19.

“Mason researchers answered the call,” Washington said. “They continue to answer the call. And we need you to answer the call. Whatever and whenever that call may be.”

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