George Mason University

News at Mason

Graduates encouraged to be persistent, keep open minds

December 21, 2016   /   by Preston Williams

Lead lives with an open mind and an open heart, and maintain your ability to engage people with whom you disagree, George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera urged students at two Winter Graduation ceremonies Wednesday.

“Of all the things you have learned at Mason, I hope you take with you a strong desire to listen to others respectfully, to consider what others have to say carefully, to question your own beliefs and share your opinion,” Cabrera said to the graduating class of nearly 4,000 at EagleBank Arena on the Fairfax Campus. “Those conversations were as much a part of your Mason education as the hours you spent in the classroom, lab or library.”

The 2,509 students earning bachelor’s degrees Wednesday hailed from 33 countries and 24 states, and about one-third were the first in their families to earn a college degree. The 1,482 students earning master’s, law or doctorate degrees were from 36 countries and 32 states.

The diversity of the students prompted entrepreneur and philanthropist Sheila C. Johnson, the guest speaker at the morning ceremony, to marvel at the graduating class as “a rainbow of color, a virtual encyclopedia of nationalities.”

Johnson―who co-founded Black Entertainment Television, builds resort properties and is the first African-American woman to have ownership stakes in three professional sports franchises―advised the graduates to consider the value of a “packing list” of attributes. These include a willingness to work hard, a spirit of resilience and courage, and an open mind, all of which can lead to a satisfying future.

“These are the kind of character traits you carry with you at your core, the traits that will help you to build a future whose only limits are the limits of your dreams,” Johnson said. “And I’ll tell you,” she added, “as an employer, I meet a lot of talented young people. The ones who impress me most aren’t always the ones with the biggest ideas. They’re the ones with the biggest desire.” She pointed out her CFO, Allen Wood, in the audience, who is a Mason alum.

Afternoon speaker Tony Nicely, GEICO chairman and CEO, encouraged the graduates to demand more of themselves than anyone else demands of them. As a young man, Nicely took what he thought would be a temporary clerking job at GEICO. That was 55 years ago. For almost the past quarter-century, he has run what is now the nation’s second-largest auto insurer.

“Don’t be surprised if your future takes you to a different career than you planned or perhaps even to a different part of the world,” said Nicely, former director of the George Mason University Foundation Inc. “Keep your mind open to doing something that you may never have considered. … Most importantly, you should seek to do what brings you great satisfaction and for which you have genuine passion.”

Mason Rector Tom Davis awarded Johnson and Nicely honorary degrees.