George Mason University

News at Mason

Strong message of diversity and inclusion delivered at New Student Convocation

August 28, 2017   /   by Damian Cristodero

Janna Almokhtar was just one of the more than 3,400 students in the Class of 2021 who gathered in EagleBank Arena on Aug. 25 for George Mason University’s New Student Convocation.

And though the program was aimed at the university’s largest-ever group of incoming freshmen, as a whole, Almokhtar, who was born in Ukraine and became a U.S. citizen six years ago, said she felt the message was directed straight at her.

“It was amazing because we got to hear what Mason fights for,” the cyber security engineering major said. “We got to see how welcoming they are of different diversities, religions and backgrounds, so it was important for me. I feel welcome here.”

That clearly was the event’s theme as speaker after speaker stressed the university’s commitment to inclusion, diversity and the free exchange of ideas as an invaluable learning tool.

There was no shying away from the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va., either, with Mason President Ángel Cabrera and keynote speaker Wendi Manuel-Scott using it to contrast George Mason’s ethos.

“You are in one of the richest learning environments you could have immersed yourself in,” Cabrera said of Mason, while urging students to engage their fellows of differing viewpoints. “Diversity is our strength. Diversity is our strength if we create an environment of freedom and mutual respect.”

“Your voice, your talent, your intellect are welcome here,” said Manuel-Scott, an associate professor of integrated studies. “If you are an international student, you are welcome here, we see you. If you are Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, black, white, autistic, straight, trans, a single parent, you are welcome here. Veterans, you are welcome here.”

“Don’t waste your shot,” she added. “Leave receipts.”

The line brought huge applause from the crowd made up of students from 43 states and 37 countries, and affirmation from student body president David Kanos, the first international student to hold that position at Mason.

“The first thing students will see is Mason’s spirit and the love that everyone here has for this university. That’s very infectious, ” said Kanos, a senior from Nigeria. “This is a chance to showcase all the great components and assets Mason possesses.”

The convocation also was a chance for some fun.

Doc Nix’s Green Machine pep band knocked it out of the park, as usual, to great applause. The Patriot Quartet from the University Chorale performed “Patriot Pride,” and senior Dylan Toms sang the national anthem.

“It’s exciting,” said Bethany Usher, associate provost of undergraduate education. “We get a chance to set the stage for being an inclusive, exciting academic environment, and they should be excited about their opportunities.”

“You begin to create a community from day one,” Manuel-Scott said prior to the convocation. “In building that community, you allow students to see each other, to better understand each other, to connect with each other, to have compassion for different experiences. That makes us stronger and that makes us an institution that can be resilient through tumultuous moments.”

The message resonated with freshman information technology major Brooke Wilson.

“It’s important to work with one another,” she said, "to have a network and be diverse.”