The George Mason Medal is the university’s highest honorary award. Those who receive the award are characterized by a record of service to their community, state or nation consistent with the level and quality of George Mason’s public service in his own time. George Mason was a public leader in the cause of freedom during the Revolutionary War and formative years of the United States.
This year the university recognizes three outstanding individuals for their service.
Charles J. Colgan
In 1975, when Charles J. Colgan began his 40 years of public service in Virginia’s legislature, George Mason University was a little-known upstart, a former outpost of the University of Virginia yet to find its place in the region’s higher education community.
With Colgan’s considerable help in Richmond, George Mason has become the commonwealth’s largest research university, with nearly 34,000 students, 6,500 faculty and staff members and campuses stretching from Arlington and Fairfax, Va., to South Korea.
Included among those campuses is the 134-acre Science and Technology Campus in Colgan’s home district of Prince William County, where the former Occoquan Building was recently renamed the Senator Charles J. Colgan Hall.
“The senator was known and respected for reaching across the aisle to achieve state objectives, inspiring his colleagues and future public servants to work together for the common good,” said Mason president Ángel Cabrera.
“He was an ardent supporter of higher education, and the architect behind hundreds of millions of dollars invested in our university, Northern Virginia Community College and universities across the commonwealth.”
Colgan, 89, the longest-serving state senator in Virginia’s history, sponsored $1.2 billion for Virginia’s higher education system during his tenure, some $660 million of that earmarked for the development of Mason, according to Senate finance figures.
Jim Larrañaga isn’t one for individual awards.
“I think everything in life is about teamwork,” he said, “how people bring out the best in each other.”
The former George Mason University men’s basketball coach said he’s proud to accept the Mason Medal as recognition of those who supported him during his 14 seasons with the Patriots.
Larrañaga helped put George Mason on the map when he led it out of the unheralded Colonial Athletic Association to the 2006 NCAA Final Four. “I might be the one being honored, but it’s really more about the great team effort we got from the time we arrived.” He credits then-university president Alan Merten with integrating him into the community.
He and his wife, Liz, established two endowed scholarships for the athletic department here. Though he has coached the University of Miami since 2011, he has always felt a special connection to the Patriot family. That was apparent in March, when he brought his Miami players to EagleBank Arena to practice before the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C.
“It felt like we were going home,” he said.
Larrañaga, whose 273 victories are a Mason record, and who finished his Patriots’ career with 13 consecutive winning seasons and five NCAA tournament appearances, said he lives by a philosophy based on attitude, commitment and class.
“If I don’t set the right example, if I don’t have the right attitude, if I don’t behave in a first-class manner, how can I expect others to?” he said. “It’s all about setting the proper example, laying the foundation for success.”
Long V. Nguyen
For Long Nguyen, helping others is part of the job.
A longtime philanthropist, he has established relief funds for numerous disasters around the world, including earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes.
His parents emphasized education to Nguyen as a young man, sending him to college in the United States from their home country of Vietnam. He earned his undergraduate degree in physics at North Carolina State University; his master’s degree, also in physics, at the University of Virginia; and his doctorate in computer science at Iowa State University.
One of Nguyen’s goals was to start his own company. He had the idea in 1970 but realized he needed to build a track record first. His planning and patience paid off when he started the IT firm Pragmatics 15 years later.
Nguyen’s connection to George Mason fits into his overall philosophy of helping others and providing a quality education.
“We want George Mason to be the best university possible, not only in Northern Virginia, but nationally and internationally.”
Long and his wife Kimmy donated $5 million to Mason’s Volgenau School of Engineering, and the Engineering Building bears their name. He is a past member of Mason’s Board of Visitors and the Board of Trustees of the Academy for Government Accountability. He has created endowments at Mason and Iowa State to honor past academic advisors, and in 2007, he established an endowed chair in software engineering at the latter in honor of his parents. He has also made two endowments at Mason’s School of Law.
When he retires, he wants to return to his first love, teaching.
“When we reach the top of the ladder, we need not only to leave the ladder, but help others climb,” he said.
- Michele McDonald