May 18, 2020

Celebrating the Class of 2020

May 18, 2020

Generations throughout the course of time have experienced defining moments, profoundly impacting how they lived their lives. For my grandparents it was WWI and the Spanish Flu, while my parents lived through the Great Depression and served in WWII. During my lifetime, I saw the Civil Rights Movement change our nation while my college years were influenced by the tumultuous Vietnam War era. Then, my children’s lives were changed by 9/11 and the Great Recession while my grandchildren will need to confront global warming, the climate crisis and the implications of changing global economy. For you, the Class of 2020, this was to be your year. I regret that the coronavirus pandemic forced our campus abruptly to change the spring semester, making the last moments of the academic year bittersweet. We never will forget, and forever will be impacted by COVID-19 and its consequences.

For the Class of 2020, graduation day is no longer what you expected, or even dreamed about. There were to be celebrations and smiles, with careers, graduate school, new businesses, and adventures to follow. The excitement and joy as you walk across the graduation stage won’t occur in the way we all had planned, nor will there be the opportunity to wear regalia or launch your cap in the air at a traditional graduation ceremony. When your graduation day was to conclude, you won’t post selfies in front of the George Mason statue, or in EagleBank Arena or other campus venues. There will be many missed opportunities and experiences, and while the moments you envisioned may not occur, the joy of your achievements cannot be taken away.

While the world is living a through an extraordinary and unprecedented multi-generational experience, this still is your moment. Enjoy every minute of it and celebrate,  even in a way that is different than you had envisioned.

I, along with the entire Mason community, am thrilled to honor your hard work and achievements.

You came to Mason following an economic recession with dreams and talents. Throughout your tenure at Mason, you contributed to what Mason is today in important and lasting ways. You helped lead Mason to new heights. You touched us as you participated in university organizations, clubs and other activities and as you shared your true selves during theatrical, dance and musical performances. You taught others—either as a TA, tutor, or by example—and helped your peers and your professors strengthen Mason’s academic programs. We cheered your athleticism and wore green and gold to show our support. Your passion for technology advanced the university as a whole and impacted how it will be used in the future, including your participation in remote and online learning during the COVID-19 crisis response. Furthermore, your experiences will change how organizations from every sector contribute to the global market and changing economy. You have been the core of George Mason University and as it often has been said, “Once a Patriot Always a Patriot.”

I hope you find solace during this challenging time through a unique sense of camaraderie with your fellow graduates, knowing that the members of the Class of 2020 across the globe, and the thousands of other Mason alumni, understand what you are going through. Know that your families, who have supported you, and who you have supported, are beaming with pride as you complete your studies.

If you find yourself wondering about courage and strength, know that the world will, eventually, get back on track (albeit with a few changes) and once this crisis ends, each of you will have greater confidence that you can handle tough situations and get to the other side. I want to emphasize that if anyone can do this, you can. Yours is a generation that understands how to stay connected and be resilient – especially during times like this.

I am reminded of a poem by William Ernest Henley which I believe captures the essence of this moment. Invictus, meaning “unconquerable” or “undefeated” in Latin, was written while Henley was in the hospital being treated for complications of tuberculosis. Like today’s context, the poem talks about holding on to one’s dignity and resilience in the face of suffering and, ultimately, it is an assertion of the boundless strength of the human spirit.

By William Ernest Henley

Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

You inspire me and I celebrate each and every one of you. I know this moment is not the one you’ve been dreaming of since you first arrived on campus, but I also know that this will be the defining moment of your generation.

All of us at Mason delight in recognizing you, and are so very proud of you — you have made George Mason University a better place for us all.

Congratulations to the class of 2020 – BRAVO!

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