Student Commencement speaker Shruti Sekar is destined to succeed, helping others along the way


In the summer before she started at George Mason University, this year’s Student Commencement Speaker Shruti Sekar learned Python with her friends while participating in coding activities, which launched her passion for computer science.

Shruti Sekar in cap and gown
Shruti Sekar.
Photo by Evan Cantwell/Office of University Branding

In her first semester, the computer science major joined Mason’s Student Government Senate and the Honors College’s Student Advisory Board. The next year, she worked as a teaching assistant for the Break Through Tech Summer Guild to introduce more women to computing. She also participated in Break Through Tech’s short-term Sprinternship program, where she received a chance to explore software engineering at Mastercard during winter break. 

Since her junior year, Sekar has enjoyed supporting initiatives for students as a secretary for Girls Who Code. In her final semester, she helped to set up the executive board for the hardware hackathon HackOver-flow; participated in Mason’s President-Student Advisory Board; and founded Social Sandbox, a community engagement and technology club, with her team.

Sekar loves writing fiction, crafting lyrics and poems, and collaging scrapbooks. She also relaxes by spending time with friends, interacting with animals, creating products for hackathons, and playing video games. She attributes her success to her lovely friends and professors and, most importantly, to her parents and brother who have encouraged and uplifted her every step of the way. After graduation, Sekar will join Mastercard as a data engineer and continue working toward her accelerated master’s degree in computer science at Mason.

Sekar delivered the following remarks at Winter Commencement on Dec. 14 in EagleBank Arena.

Before I begin, I would like to congratulate the Winter 2023 graduating class! Even though we speak different languages, come from various countries, and study distinct disciplines, we all embody the determination and grit required to earn a degree as Mason Patriots! Congratulations to all undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students in the Class of 2023!

Every graduating class has a story to tell. Our story reaches beyond countless hours preparing for graduation, days of studying for finals, weeks of attending lectures, and years of working towards our degree.

Our story includes waves that shook our education.

We started by touching our screens to start video calls as we physically drifted apart during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We saw the skies painted orange as the weather wilted from wildfires flowing from Canada.

We heard shrill alarm bells ring and felt our hearts sink when nearby universities underwent lockdowns.

We felt a loss of rights with an increase in policies targeting LGBTQ+ communities and women.

We tasted desperation akin to apocalyptic nightmares with multiple wars.

But when undercurrents of tragedy rippled through, we, as a Mason community sent lifeboats to our peers drifting in turbulent waves.

For me, my first two semesters at Mason were the most isolating. My brain felt drained, my heart felt heavy, and my mind doubted itself. You see, Mason is the first place I took an actual coding class. As a computer science major, I had no prior experience besides block-based coding made for young kids.

I had heard terms relating to databases or software engineering from my dad and brother. Even when I was applying to Mason, I intended to study as a mechanical engineering major. But before orientation, I learned Python with my friend Swetha, and our connection gave me the confidence to switch into computer science.

But the transition was not easy. Seeing the mountains of technical knowledge other students displayed, I felt I would never be smart enough or do enough. When difficult coding assignments hit, or I found myself working past 1 a.m., I truly questioned if the path I was taking was the path I should be taking.

In the end, the problem didn’t lie in my ability; it lay in our lack of connection during the pandemic and our utter loneliness. Everyone took virtual classes, and we all pretended that we were doing fine. We apologized when we faced interruptions in Zoom, fine-tuned our lighting and microphones, and adjusted our camera to provide a picture-perfect view of ourselves. We sometimes even turned off our cameras to prevent others from noticing the chaos behind us.

The truth is that we students know that the outside world affects our education—yet we still try to isolate our own lives from our academics.

Despite my feeling of drowning in waves, the people around me pulled me to shore. The strength of the Mason community has always lay in reaching out and uplifting one another from the harshest currents in the ocean.

My mother and father continued to motivate me to pursue a higher education degree. My brother encouraged me to think critically about my four-year plan. My friends and professors empowered me through their kind words.

In particular, during my first semester at Mason, the Student Government Senate and the Honors College Student Advisory Board anchored me through the worst tempests of the pandemic. Administrators at the Honors College taught me the meaning of interdisciplinary collaboration and club presidents like Taye, Ghaaliyah, and Rosy highlighted the value of empathy and good leadership. In Student Government Senate, they listened to me and made me feel respected when I worked on mental health and accessibility initiatives.

The Honors College and Student Government supported me in creating events and learning more about community initiatives, which would serve as a template for the rest of my undergraduate experience. They taught me that we should pursue even the smallest of ideas and that we should all look out for each other.

While we were all in our little islands at home trying to hold steady through passing storms, these organizations made me feel like there were bridges between us and that we were never truly alone.

So many people at Mason are anchors for others.

I joined Break Through Tech and met phenomenal professors who led the initiatives to help women become involved in technology. I met women who were also learning how to code for the first time, and we all felt like we genuinely belonged in computer science. From there, I joined Girls Who Code and even founded the club Social Sandbox with my wonderful team and faculty advisor, Professor Peixoto, to merge technology with civic and community engagement.

Throughout my time in the student organizations at Mason, I met so many dedicated people; we became a network just like a school of fish where we all swam together toward a common goal of increasing the number of women in tech and helping each other succeed.

In my time at Mason, so many people made me, and people like me, feel included. It reminds me of how my brother once told me that it doesn’t matter how smart you are or what job you have. Instead, people will remember you by how you treat them.

So, Mason Patriots, I ask you: How does the story you write today impact the generations of tomorrow? How will you use the tools you learned to protect and improve your communities?

While there are many insurmountable issues in the world, the best way we can make progress is to start local, to start with our communities, to start with us. Already, I see that Mason’s community of green and gold continues to be an anchor of change for a better future.

While we saw the skies turn orange, and the waters turn green, Dr. Stafford’s classes studied the streams of Virginia’s waterways to understand pollution and how we can change it. While nationwide college enrollment dipped throughout the pandemic, seniors Nikita Alluri and Dhaksha Kannan created their own company, IncluYou, to help make the college transition easier. While we raised questions during the digital revolution of AI and Chat-GPT, Dr. Yao answered them to educate the next generation of computer scientists.

We watched our world change, and we decided to change the world together.

As I said before, we students know the world affects our education; however, as a graduating class, we didn’t let the world’s situation stop our studies.

We lost people, money, and security.

But we learned that the power of education and community cannot be taken away from us.

We learned that Patriots sponsor change within our state.

We learned that Patriots share a dream—that these graduates donning green and gold see, live, and change for creeks of calm and oceans of equality.

We shall continue to write tales where our voyages transcend waves of uncertainty and turmoil and instead transform into a story of success and support. Because as Mason’s graduating class of Winter 2023, we are the authors of our story.

Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2023!


Watch the Commencement Ceremony