George Mason University President Gregory Washington and a host of Mason student, faculty and staff representatives welcomed the largest incoming class in the university’s history at two convocations Friday, challenging the newest Patriots to push themselves academically, get involved on campus and prepare to tackle the grand challenges of our time.
“Don’t be afraid to lead,” Washington said in the second ceremony to a socially distanced audience in EagleBank Arena. “Your generation has been called. No other generation in recent memory has had to go through what you’ve had to go through to be here today.
“You are Patriots. The challenges, the change, and the competition that’s in front of you, I know, is not going to deter you. Patriots don’t run from challenges. We run into them. And that’s why you are here.”
Mason is the largest and most diverse public university in Virginia, and the freshman class bears that out, with more than 4,000 students, 56% of whom are non-white, both all-time highs. This is also the largest group of new students, counting undergraduate, graduate and law students, to ever enroll at Mason.
The convocation attendees—taught the university fight song by Doc Nix and the Green Machine—also included some second-year students who did not have an in-person convocation of their own last year.
“This is your time,” Mason Provost Mark Ginsberg told the students. “It’s your time to explore. It’s your time to make new friends. It’s your time to learn new things. But it’s also your time to push yourself to new heights. Most of all, it is your time to thrive.”
Bethany Usher, associate provost for undergraduate education, referred to the incoming class as “the best prepared set of students that we’ve ever had,” not only because of their academic credentials, but because of the resilience, grit and flexibility they developed during the past 18 months as they adapted to online learning and, in many cases, self-directed their education.
“I think you’re really set up for success in that way,” Usher said, encouraging the students to fight through frustration and doubt in hot pursuit of “Aha!” discoveries. “You know that you learn when things get hard. Those are the moments that are going to make your academic career.”
Keynote speaker Jennifer Victor, associate professor of political science in Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government, spoke about how simple acts of everyday kindness can bolster democracy by strengthening the bonds of community. To help prove her point, she turned around and gave a Schar School cap to Washington, who promptly put it on.
“Imagine if just a few dozen of the people in this room engage in civic acts of kindness with one another in the next week,” Victor said. “And imagine that some of those are paid forward and multiplied by others.... If that happens, then by the time we get to fall break, we’re going to be looking at a veritable epidemic of civic kindness on our campus.”
The most relatable advice of all might have come from Student Government President Natalia Kanos, a double major in government and international politics and conflict analysis and resolution, who recalled her rocky start at Mason, including getting lost on her way to convocation and starting various activities and courses only to drop them.
“You will have trials and tribulations,” said Kanos, who went on to get involved in Student Government and compete on the women’s rowing team. “You will have good days and bad days, ups and downs. But something you will never have is a lack of opportunity. Mason will give you the opportunity and the tools to become the person that you want to be…to rise to the occasion and surprise yourself.”