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FairfaxEducationMason grads urged to chart own paths in life

Mason grads urged to chart own paths in life

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Green-begowned graduates at George Mason University could be forgiven they wondered why commencement keynote speaker Stu Shea asked them to stand, take a single step and lean in with their classmates.

Shea noted how famous people throughout history – Martin Luther King Jr., Neil Armstrong and New York City firefighters who climbed up the doomed World Trade Center towers on 9/11 – all took steps on their fateful journeys.

Such first steps often require courage, tenacity, resiliency and patience, but can change the world, said Shea, chairman, president and CEO of Herndon-based national-security company Peraton.

“Always take that first step to champion change, rather than have change happen to you,” he said.


The commencement, held May 20 at EagleBank Arena, was Mason’s first in-person ceremony since spring 2019.

Mason officials awarded more than 9,700 degrees and roughly 800 certificates. Graduates hailed from 89 countries and 47 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and military installations around the world.

Officials estimated that 6,392 graduates would earn bachelor’s degrees, and said 27 percent were the first in their families to graduate from college.
The five most popular undergraduate majors were information technology; psychology; information systems and operations management; computer science; and criminology, law and society.

There were 2,905 graduates who received master’s degrees; their top-five majors were curriculum and instruction, special education, data-analytics engineering, business administration and education leadership.

GMU also bestowed 294 doctoral degrees, the top fields for which included education, economics, Earth systems and geoinformation sciences, electrical and computer engineering, and psychology.

Mason’s Scalia Law School on May 14 celebrated the graduation of 132 students.
Many graduates decorated their mortarboards in creative and personal ways. One student, who may have studied forensic criminology, emblazoned the cap’s top with “Dead Men Do Tell Tales” and placed a skull in the center.

GMU President Gregory Washington noted that this was Mason’s 50th year as an independent university and said its campus “looks like what America soon will look like” – that is, with no dominant ethnic majority.

Washington urged the graduates to thank those who had helped them make it to the ceremony, from family members right down to the pizza-delivery drivers. He also detailed how Mason’s students, faculty and leaders had overcome difficulties during the pandemic.

“Your journey has been like no other,” Washington said. “You could not have anticipated the challenges that would arise during your time here.”

Major new challenges await the graduates, including rising educational and economic inequality, civic unrest, rising inflation, and marginalized ethnic and religious minorities, he said.

“Our challenge, and indeed your challenge as graduates, is just beginning,” Washington said. “You leave here more prepared than any class before you to tackle the challenges and problems.”

Student speaker Bhagya Nair, who earned a bachelor of science degree in information systems and operations management, expressed happiness with being able to study in Spain and Morocco, but said she had been shaken by her father’s death and the necessity to take online courses away from her classmates during the pandemic.

She advised the graduates to carve out their personal paths in life.
“Your journey is the souvenir you keep for your accomplishments,” Nair said. “Make it a memorable one.”

Keynote speaker Shea recommended the graduates maintain positive relationships whenever possible.

“Even if you passionately disagree with someone else’s view, you can do it with civility,” he said. “Never burn down a relationship in pursuit of a personal goal.” (There also was a practical reason to adopt that strategy, Shea said: “The person you step over may be your boss tomorrow.”)

Shea advised class members to be vulnerable, ask questions and commit to learning something new every day. They also should follow great leaders and emulate role models who have strong moral compasses and believe that team success brings personal success.

Graduation marks an inflection point in class members’ journeys, signifying that they now have full ownership of their life choices, Shea said. Failure is just a dry run for future success, so the graduates should take risks and think big, he said.

“You are the canvas of your own future,” Shea said. “Don’t paint between the lines. Have fun creating the masterpiece of your life.”

Matthew Hoffmann, Case Hope, Josias Ventura, Teresa Jenkins and Alex Ketch from George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts prepare to graduate May 20, 2022, at the university’s Fairfax campus. Hope sang the National Anthem at the ceremony. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)
Najma Hashimi, Jessica Winkler, Ryan Caram and Garrett Harrison of George Mason University’s College of Education and Human Development prepare to graduate May 20, 2022 during a ceremony at EagleBank arena on the university’s Fairfax campus. (Photo by Brian Trompeter)
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