News at Mason
Graduates urged to focus on service and leadership
May 18, 2018 / by Preston Williams
Members of the largest graduating class in Mason history were advised that any life of success will be in large part be defined by a life of service.
All three speakers at Friday’s 51st annual Commencement in a nearly packed EagleBank Arena emphasized the immense impact the more than 9,000 graduates can have by committing themselves to tackling major issues and helping others.
Mason President Ángel Cabrera cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote that “Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve,” and then named three 2018 graduates who made lasting impacts while still in school.
“A good friend of mine and an alumna of this university likes to say: ‘When the door of opportunity opens, just go through it,’” Cabrera said. “Which you just did. I would like to add a corollary to what she says: If the door of opportunity doesn’t open, kick it open, then go through it, then hold it open for others to do the same.”
Commencement speaker Paul Polman, the CEO of London-based Unilever, has been recognized internationally for his company’s commitment to corporate responsibility in addressing global issues such as environmental challenges, poverty and gender inequality.
Polman told the Mason graduates from 80 countries and 46 states that they have great collective promise at one of the most pivotal times in human history, particularly if they continue to learn new skills, choose to lead and go forth with “a sense of humanity and humility.”
“[You] not only have the opportunity to make a difference, but also—I would suggest—the responsibility to make a personal impact as well,” Polman said. “It is clear that the world we want will only be achieved when we choose action over indifference, courage over comfort, and solidarity over division. That requires hard work. That requires personal risk and courage…. We need those that are driven by a deeper sense of purpose—those who indeed understand that self-interest and the common good go actually hand-in-hand.”
Rector Tom Davis presented Polman with an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Student speaker Meagan Ashner, a communication major from Montgomery, Ala., noted the remarkable achievements of the nation’s founding fathers when they were in their late teens and early 20s.
“If you think the people who are going to change the world aren’t sitting in this room, take a look around,” Ashner said. “Because that girl who took charge of your group project when no one else wanted to, or that guy who stayed after class to help you with your homework are already leaders.”
Of graduating seniors who reported the education level of their parents, 37 percent of the Class of 2018 say they are the first in their families to earn a degree from a four-year institution. Cabrera singled out health administration major Ingrid Roque-Oviedo, the sixth child from a local family to go through Mason’s Early Identification Program and graduate from Mason. She and her siblings are the first six college graduates in the family.
The majors of the Class of 2018 mirror the needs in the workforce. Twenty-six percent of Mason’s undergraduates earned degrees in STEM fields, and 10 percent earned degrees in the health sciences. Twenty-eight percent of advanced degree recipients majored in STEM fields, and another 5 percent earned degrees in the health sciences.
During the ceremony, Cabrera also honored the recipients of the four presidential excellence medals, the highest faculty award at Mason, a Commencement tradition that began last year.
Patricia Miller and Linda Apple Monson, both from the School of Music, received the John Toups Presidential Medal for Excellence in Teaching for teaching that exemplifies Mason’s commitment to transformative learning.
Stephen S. Fuller, University Professor in the Schar School of Policy and Government and Director of the Stephen S. Fuller Institute for Research on the Washington Region’s Economic Future, received the Earle C. Williams Presidential Medal for Excellence in Social Impact for commitment to community service that improves the quality of life in our region or around the world.
Angela Hattery, professor and Director of the Women and Gender Studies Program, received the United Bank Presidential Medal for Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion for extraordinary contributions to advancing both.
Thomas E. Lovejoy, University Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, received the Beck Family Presidential Medal for Excellence in Research and Scholarship in recognition of groundbreaking achievements.