In congratulating the largest public university graduating class in state history, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and George Mason University President Gregory Washington shared a message of renewal and growth at Mason’s Spring Commencement on Thursday, May 18.
Noting that the Class of 2023 is the last four-year class to have entered college before the pandemic, Washington compared the graduates weathering that public health crisis to branches that withstand storms and become strengthened by the winds of change.
“The pandemic put so much stress on the fabric of our world that society seemed to start coming apart at the seams,” Washington told the graduating class of nearly 11,000 degree and certificate earners at EagleBank Arena on the Fairfax Campus in a ceremony livestreamed on Mason’s main YouTube channel and on the Mason homepage.
“But you all stuck together. You did what you had to do in order to get through the pandemic. You didn’t fight each other. You fought the virus. And together, we won,” Washington said to applause. “You are part of the first generation of Americans who will lead the new world that now rises up ahead of us.”
Youngkin, echoed that theme of progress, predicting that the Mason graduates would distinguish themselves across professions and industries. He cited three graduates by name and shared their stories as examples of the Class of 2023’s promising future.
The 74th Governor of Virginia, referencing Mason’s humble beginnings as 17 students in one building, hailed Mason as “a first-class institution” and one that is “truly breaking out as a great university.”
“No matter your faith, no matter your nationality, no matter your race, your culture or creed, as you walk across this stage you will have the opportunity to become a builder of Virginia, a builder of this nation, a builder of the world,” Youngkin said. “All of the men and women who attend George Mason are prepared to be builders…. The world needs builders. And you will build.”
Rector Horace Blackman presented Youngkin with an honorary doctorate of humane letters and presented the Mason Medal, the university’s highest honorary award, to Kimmy Duong, vice chairwoman and chief financial officer for innovative solutions provider Pragmatics.
Duong has provided opportunities to hundreds of students in Vietnamese and American communities through the Kimmy Duong Foundation. She and her husband, Long Nguyen, a previous Mason Medal recipient who was also in attendance Thursday, in 2011 donated $5 million to the university for what is now known as the Long and Kimmy Nguyen Engineering Building on the Fairfax Campus.
Mason is the largest and most diverse public university in the state, and the Class of 2023 enhances that status, with graduates from 111 countries, 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and military installations.
When Washington asked first-generation graduates to stand, a sea of rising green gowns rippled across the arena floor to a rousing ovation. Attending such a diverse university will give Mason graduates an advantage over many of their peers, Washington said.
“By the time you reach mid-career…America will be a nation without ethnic majorities,” Washington said. “That America will just be many different people of different backgrounds and beliefs all still trying to build a more perfect union.
“That diversity of origin, identity, circumstance, and thought is what we affectionately call, ‘All Together Different.’ It has caused some struggles and many triumphs, but it isn’t just a Mason slogan—for you all, it is actually your future.”
Provost Mark Ginsberg introduced the student speaker, Galilea Sejas-Machado, who reflected on how she found strength in community at Mason through an active campus life, including as founding president of the Hispanic Latine Leadership Alliance.
“Don’t focus on ‘What do you want to be?’ or ‘What do you want to do?’” said Sejas-Machado, an Honors College student who double-majored in sociology and criminology, law and society. “Instead, ask, ‘Who do you want to be and who do you have in your corner?’”
Mason Alumni Association president Christine Landoll, BS ’89, MS ’92, welcomed the new graduates to the association network of more than 225,000 members worldwide. She encouraged the new alumni to stay connected to the university through mentoring, guest speaking, serving on advisory boards, and attending Mason events.
“This is your Mason family,” Landoll said. “So use them. Leverage them. Help each other out. That’s what we do.”
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