George Mason University

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The video presentation was virtual. The tears were real

May 22, 2020   /   by Damian Cristodero

Jennifer Victor said she wanted to do something to help her seniors celebrate graduation.

When George Mason University senior Kelsey Gaudette was asked what she appreciates most about associate professor Jennifer Victor, she immediately mentioned the way Victor connects with her students.

“Her personality is so welcoming, but she also pushes her students to be their best and doesn’t expect anything less,” Gaudette said. “She stimulates the classroom.”

Even on the final day of classes, when Victor presented to her 20 students in her GOVT 490 class (about half of whom are graduating) a video filled with congratulations, not only from her but from seven authors of the books the class had been assigned.

The class, of course, was virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic, and there was a momentary technical glitch before the video could be played. But once rolling, the authors praised the students for their dedication, challenged them to listen to diverse viewpoints, and to appreciate “how much we hold each other in our hands.”

As the video ended, the authors helped read the names of Victor’s students.

“I was almost getting teary-eyed,” said Gaudette, a government and international politics major who graduated in May. “It brought the closure that was needed and necessary. [Victor] tied it up with a bow on top.”

Victor said she had been searching for a way to congratulate her students for their perseverance through a semester of online learning and to congratulate her seniors who, for now, will not have a traditional commencement ceremony.

Mason did provide the Class of 2020 with a virtual celebration, and the university is committed to holding an actual commencement for the class in some fashion when circumstances permit.

“But they were clearly sad about missing graduation,” Victor said of her students. “For several weeks, I’d been saying I was going to come up with something to do to help celebrate them. Making a closer connection between the students and the authors seemed like a natural way to do it.”

“Professor Victor made the most of this crisis, turning it into a true teaching moment,” said Mark J. Rozell, dean of Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government. “She taught us how a professor expresses her sincere affection and deep faith in her students. This comes from the heart.”

It came together with enthusiastic support of the authors.

“I absolutely love the idea,” said Danna Young, associate professor of communication at the University of Delaware, who was part of the video. “Let’s be honest, students see their own faculty all the time, so to be able to see the faces of the people who they read, and to humanize that work, is really special. I just felt honored to be asked.”

For Victor, who made a similar video for her GOV 500 graduate seminar, the presentations served two purposes.

Yes, there was the desire to help her students receive some of the recognition they deserved after such a challenging semester.

“But the other thing is, I really hope my students come away from the classroom experience with a sustained curiosity about the world and politics,” Victor said. “Anything I can do to help promote that, to make the social science more real, is what I’m always trying to do.”