George Mason University held its largest Winter Graduation ceremony in university history at EagleBank Arena on Thursday, with more than 4,400 students earning degrees.
This year’s class includes 2,749 bachelor’s degree recipients from 43 countries and 31 states. About 40 percent of graduates were the first in their families to earn a four-year degree.
In addition, 1,501 students earned master’s degrees, 153 earned doctoral degrees and six earned law degree recipients (most law students graduate in spring.) These students were from 37 countries and 32 states.
The graduation was broadcast online for those who weren’t able to attend.
At the ceremony, students were encouraged to continue the pursuit of knowledge and civil discourse that defined their Mason academic careers.
“Remember what you learned at Mason,” President Ángel Cabrera said. “The excitement of learning, of keeping your mind open to new ideas, of listening to others—even those you think you will never agree with—with respect and curiosity.”
The morning ceremony guest speaker, Discover Financial Services executive Kelly McNamara Corley, JD ’89, recalled the “life-changing” environment she encountered at Mason as a law school student taking night classes while working full time.
She told the graduates that the ability to cultivate strong relationships with people from different backgrounds “will be the foundations of your future success.”
“I can tell you from experience that what will stick with you is the ability to live and work together with people whose opinions, experiences and beliefs differ from your own,” Corley said.
The afternoon guest speaker, Drexel University provost M. Brian Blake, PhD Information Technology ‘00, encouraged the graduates to “challenge the norm,” noting personal transformative decisions he made that enriched his life and shaped his career in ways he could not have imagined.
“The next time you voice an opinion, it could very much change the course of your life,” Blake said. “So my advice to you is: Don’t miss that moment.”
Rector Tom Davis awarded honorary degrees to Corley and Blake.
The ceremonies also featured student speakers. Becky Johnson, who received a master of arts in international commerce and policy, encouraged her fellow graduates to live out the ideals they learned at Mason, ideals that welcome diversity of thought and encourage civil debate.
“Let’s remember who we were when we were being graded—how facts and the quality of the argument mattered, but so did our friend on the other side,” Johnson said.
At the afternoon ceremony, Jehad Halawani, who received a master of education in curriculum and instruction, recalled how welcomed she felt when she first saw the faces of her Mason classmates. The mother of two, who left a teaching career in Palestine to come to the United States, is a science teacher at a Northern Virginia middle school.
“Mason,” Halawani said, “gave me the strength and confidence to speak to all of you in a language not my first, in a country not my land, but in a place I call home.”