In welcoming the largest incoming class in George Mason University history Friday at convocation, Mason President Gregory Washington congratulated students for choosing a university with extensive undergraduate research opportunities, nation-leading diversity, world-class faculty, proximity to a dynamic job and internship market, and career outcomes that validate the value of their Mason degree.
“What we have given you is a tremendous opportunity for success,” Washington said, clad in academic regalia like the other Mason leaders onstage. “And what we want to do here at Mason is position you to grab that success like no other institution.
“The world is here,” he added. “You’ll have the opportunity to engage it like nowhere else in the country. Mason is a place where the only limits are the limits you place on yourself.”
Mason’s incoming freshman class is not only its largest, at more than 4,400 students, but also the most diverse freshman class in Mason history, and the most academically prepared, with 71% of freshmen having a GPA of 3.5 or higher.
With the Green Machine providing a boisterous soundtrack at EagleBank Arena, the new students heard from a host of speakers as part of this year’s theme: “We’re in This Together.”
Keynote speaker Keith Renshaw, a psychology professor and associate provost of undergraduate education, acknowledged the “swirl of emotions” the newest Patriots might be experiencing.
“One of the most incredible things about us is our diversity,” Renshaw said. “And our diversity stretches across any way you want to slice it. Race, ethnicity, sexual identity, gender identity, military and veteran status, age, life circumstance, single, married, divorced, parent, political persuasion, religion, nationality. But across all of it, you have at least one thing that binds you. You are all part of Mason Nation now.”
Listening to others and sharing vulnerability are the keys to deep interpersonal connections, Renshaw said, adding that the more intently you listen to try to understand someone’s dissenting point of view, the better chance you have of changing their mind—or your own.
“Somewhere in this crowd is someone you don't yet know, but who you disagree with,” Renshaw said, pacing the stage. “So fundamentally, you cannot imagine being in a conversation with them. I am here to tell you they are your people, too. Because we are Mason. We define ourselves by including people, not excluding people.”
Sharnnia Artis, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, noted how Mason is one of the nation’s top universities for ethnic diversity, freedom of expression, providing an LGBTQ-friendly learning environment and excelling at serving military veterans and nontraditional students. These qualities “cultivate an environment where every individual finds their place and their purpose…. Belonging is at the heart of our community. I encourage you to venture out with open hearts and open minds.”
Provost Mark Ginsberg and Janette Muir, vice provost for academic affairs, welcomed the incoming class and acknowledged the faculty and deans on hand. Rose Pascarell, vice president for University Life, told students that an active social life—Mason offers more than 460 student organizations—can enhance their academic performance. Students can participate in a variety of Welcome2Mason events through Sept. 22.
Student Body President Paul Wyche, a rising junior in the Honors College majoring in cybersecurity engineering, recalled how convocation inspired him to become active in Student Government. He encouraged his new classmates to make their mark on Mason’s campuses.
“Being a student leader here at Mason isn't something that you have to be elected to do,” Wyche said. “All you need to do is find something you're passionate about and work toward that passion.”