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The virtual event, livestreamed on GMU-TV, featured recorded remarks from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden and was a part of a week of that included well-attended, in-person graduation recognition events for Mason's schools and colleges.
Mason’s Class of 2021 includes 9,904 degree earners and 821 certificate earners from 90 countries, 49 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and foreign military installations.
The 6,364 students earning bachelor’s degrees were 51.4% from underrepresented groups, an all-time Mason high, and about one-third of bachelor’s degree earners were in the first generation of their families to earn a four-year degree.
Biden, a long-time instructor at Northern Virginia Community College, said that Mason is special to her for the role it plays in educating her former students and for its participation in the Joining Forces initiative she launched as Second Lady, with then-First Lady Michelle Obama, to support the military community.
Awarded an honorary degree from Mason, Biden encouraged the graduates to treasure moments of humor, gratitude, joy and kindness even at the worst of times and to find strength by lifting and leaning on others.
“No one can promise you that life will always be beautiful,” Biden said. “But there will always be beauty—in the world around us, in the people we love, in the strength of our communities.
“Life is calling. It will be heartbreaking and hopeful. It will be bruised and beautiful. Give in to it. You’re ready for whatever comes your way.”
Mason President Gregory Washington, taking part in his first Spring Commencement, praised graduates for overcoming “a historical level of adversity and uncertainty” to earn their degrees amid a pandemic, a challenge faced by no other graduating class in a century.
Students this year showed incredible resilience by adapting to new ways of learning, embracing public health measures that kept coronavirus rates low on campus, and employing creative solutions for safe social activities.
Washington said the graduates’ perseverance further prepares them for future success.
“Through your determination, you’ve achieved things you might not have thought yourselves capable of achieving,” Washington said. “We call that learning. We call that education. And best of all, we call that growth.”
The ceremony also featured the awarding of the Mason Medal, the university’s highest honor, to former rector Tom Davis, who served seven terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Davis, also the former chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, has served on Mason’s Board of Visitors for the past eight years, including as rector from 2014 to 2020.
During that period, Mason achieved several milestones, including earning its first designation as a Carnegie Tier 1 research university while also expanding opportunities for students to attend Mason. Davis also has been an adjunct professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government.
“During your time here at George Mason you’ve been exposed to a myriad of cultures, ideas and values,” Davis told the graduates. “Hopefully you’ve come to understand that we all look alike through different lenses, and that understanding and respecting differing perspectives can make us richer and wiser individuals.”
Commencement culminated a week of “mini” ceremonies for which more than 10,000 graduates and guests signed up to attend. That includes more than 1,800 graduates and guests from the Class of 2020, which did not get to participate in in-person graduation events last year.
With the Class of 2021, Mason solidifies its standing as the largest producer of tech talent in Virginia. Among bachelor’s degree earners, 37% are in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields, as are 25% of graduate degree earners.
The top undergraduate majors are the same five as last year, only in a different order: information systems and operations management went from fourth to first this year, followed by information technology; criminology, law and society (first to a tie for third); psychology (remained third); and computer science.
Among the 3,083 master’s degree earners, the top five programs are in the same order for the third consecutive year—curriculum and instruction, special education, data analytics engineering, education leadership, and business administration.
Among the 294 doctoral degree earners, the top programs are in education, psychology, economics, public policy, and conflict analysis and resolution —the same five and same order as last year—with bioinformatics and computational biology tying for the fifth spot.
The university awarded 163 law degrees.