New Student Convocation: Welcome to ‘A Most Remarkable Group’

Posted: August 26, 2013 at 5:00 am, Last Updated: August 27, 2013 at 7:00 am

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President Angel Cabrera addresses the incoming class at the 2013 Convocation, the Preamble. Photo by Will Martinez

President Ángel Cabrera addresses the incoming class at the 2013 Convocation, the Preamble. Photo by Will Martinez

At the New Student Convocation, the Preamble, on Aug. 23, first-year students gathered as a group for the first time to begin their college experience and celebrate their class, the Class of 2017.

President Ángel Cabrera, Provost Peter Stearns, other administrators and student leaders welcomed the students and provided some tips and inspiration for having a successful college career.

Keynote speaker Lisa Gring-Pemble, associate professor and associate dean of New Century College, walked around the Patriot Center floor, addressing students directly and telling them a little about who they are — and who they might become.

Her remarks follow.

Address to New Student Convocation August 23, 2013

By Lisa Gring-Pemble

Lisa Gring-Pemble, associate dean of New Century College

Lisa Gring-Pemble, associate dean of New Century College

Thank you, Provost Stearns, President Cabrera, distinguished guests, faculty, staff, friends, family and, most of all, the Class of 2017. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share a few words with you this morning. It is truly an honor because as we will discover shortly, you are a most remarkable group. During our time together this morning, we’ll talk a bit about who you are but spend most of the time celebrating who you will become.

Throughout your years at Mason, you’ll be in classes where the professor will walk around the classroom. Some will even walk right up to you and ask questions — and hope for a response.  Let’s give it a try right.

Who wants to share why you came to Mason? Why Mason? What brings you here? What excites you about Mason?

[responses from students in audience]

As a whole, you are a pretty impressive and diverse group of students.

  • Some of you are the first in your family to attend college.
  • Many of you have remarkable international experience.  Some of you, in fact, are international students who have come from all over the globe to study at Mason. One of you studied for one year at a school located at the foot of Himalayas. And another student in this room backpacked around the world for two years with her family and visited more than 50 nations.
  • Some of you are budding social innovators and entrepreneurs. For example, one student here helped design wheelchairs that are able to navigate challenging terrain in underserved regions around the globe. Another created an organization that empowers students to learn about and advocate for science policy.
  • Each of you has expressed an interest in a wide range of academic subjects. One student here is balancing the demands of a serious dance career with commitments to a competitive robotics team. Another is a nationally ranked forensics champion. Others submitted an application with a perfect score on the SAT or ACT.
Students leaving the Patriot Center after the Convocation. Photo by Alexis Glenn

Photo by Alexis Glenn

On the surface, it would appear that you are a group of diverse individuals.

And yet, perhaps we are not so different after all. The truth is, we share some common history, and we are all threads that will be woven together at Mason into a shared future.

Let’s talk about that historical context for a moment.

Over the past several years, together we witnessed many firsts. As a nation, we commemorated the election of the first African-American president and the appointment of the first Latina to the United States Supreme Court. As members of a global community, we marveled at scientific milestones such as the discovery of water ice on the moon and an AIDS vaccine, technological innovations such as the smart phone and social media, and the rise of transformative grassroots social movements such as the Arab Spring.

We have also shared unimaginable tragedy and grief. We mourned the loss of lives at Sandyhook Elementary School and the Boston Marathon and in the violent conflicts in Egypt and Syria. The Trayvon Martin case and Supreme Court decision to dismantle a portion of the Voting Rights Act called into question our national commitment to equality, fairness and justice for all. Debates about comprehensive immigration reform, same-sex marriage and the national debt raise complex legal, moral and economic questions that cut to the core of who we are as members of a global community.

Why mention such weighty topics today, on this first day of your college career, you ask? I know you’re thinking, “But I just got here, I haven’t even started college yet and she’s up here talking to me about what I must do when I leave?”

Well, yes, at Mason we are pretty forward-thinking; we’re already anticipating who you’ll become after you graduate.

If you thought today was about observing the accomplishments that brought you here today and commemorating your first day of college you would be right. But it’s about more than that.

Photo by Alexis Glenn

Photo by Alexis Glenn

Because today, not only do we acknowledge the accomplishments that brought you to Mason, but we also celebrate your potential to address the world’s pressing and complex challenges when you leave Mason four years from now.

How will you take the Mason idea — the Mason commitment to innovation, diversity, entrepreneurship and accessibility — and put it into action? How will you transform your education into meaningful real-world applications and make a difference in your community and in the world we share?

Maybe one of you will become the next Zainab Salbi, president and founder of Women for Women International. Salbi created an organization that provides women in war-torn countries with the tools to become self-sufficient and create stable communities. She has appeared multiple times on “Oprah” and received commendations from President Clinton.

Maybe some of you will dazzle the world with your artistic talents as has dancer Billy Smith, who performs with the world-renowned Mark Morris group; Thomas Philion, who directs the Seattle Symphony; or Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, who served as Virginia’s poet laureate.

Perhaps some of you aspire to be Anousheh Ansari, who became the first woman tourist in space and was honored by Working Woman magazine with its Entrepreneurial Excellence Award of 2000.

Conceivably, some of you could be like Mark Madsen and Leslie Alden and serve our political system as state senators, representatives and judges.

Like Luis Sanz, you could be named a top doctor in Washingtonian Magazine, or like Zobair Younossi, you could serve as a vice president of research at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Perhaps, like Debbie Hersman, you’ll dedicate yourself to a world of public service; in her case, as President Obama’s appointee to chair the National Transportation Safety Board.

Photo by Alexis Glenn

Photo by Alexis Glenn

It’s feasible that you will be remembered for your athletic prowess such as Nigerian Olympic basketball star Tony Skinn, general manager for the Kansas City Royals Dayton Moore, or Olympic bronze medal bobsled winner Michael Kohn.

You could be the next Jamie Konstas, an FBI intelligence analyst who headed a sting operation that led to the prosecution of 500 perpetrators and the recovery of more than 1,000 missing and exploited children.

Or maybe you’ll dedicate yourself to educating young lives in the classroom and join students, such as Kevin Argueta, who serve in the Teach for America program.

Whatever you choose, you are certain to transform the world just as thousands of Mason alumni have. Yes, indeed, these extraordinary accomplished individuals I just mentioned are all graduates of George Mason University.

Some time ago, just like you, they were all sitting nervously, expectantly, excitedly in chairs in a room listening to the president, the provost and faculty challenge them to dream big.

So how do you get from right here, right now to the places of success occupied by Mason alumni?

Well, it’s not quite as complicated as you might think.

Adrienne Rich sums up the key to college success in her renowned essay “Claiming an Education.” In it she asserts, “You cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education; you will do much better to think of yourselves as being here to claim an education. . . . This is the experience of taking responsibility toward yourselves.

What does that mean to you as a first-year student? It means that as you embark on this new chapter in life, you are the author of your college adventure. The keys to your success are here — you just need to grasp them. Throughout this amazing voyage, embrace the totality of resources that this university provides and strive for balance.

  • Challenge your intellectual self — meet a real librarian — they are real, you know, and can help you are more than any google search ever could. Besides, a trip to Fenwick Library is a must for every college student. Get to know your professors — we hold office hours regularly precisely because we want to meet with you, and we get lonely when you don’t show up. Take a class outside your major just because it sounds interesting or fun — you may discover a new passion you never knew you had.
  • Nurture your personal well-being and spiritual self (whatever you conceive the spirit to be). Mason’s Well-Being University Initiative means there are classes, cocurricular activities, faith-based groups and many other outlets on campus for you to nourish your well-being.
  • Take care of your physical self. At the risk of sounding like your mother (who will be happy I’m saying this, by the way), get plenty of sleep, eat healthy foods and exercise regularly. The RAC has some incredible aerobic classes and equipment.
  • Cherish your social self. Explore the wide range of clubs, student groups and social opportunities on campus, and discover the historic, cultural and natural wonders of the D.C. region — you’re only a short bus and Metro ride away.
  • Above all, be true to who you are and enjoy the journey.

Today, you embark on an amazing adventure. In a few years, you will graduate and enter the next chapter of your life. It is likely you won’t remember the precise words we say here today, and that’s okay, because our collective message will be reinforced through experiences, classroom discussions and interactions with friends and faculty. And you can be assured that we will rejoice as you flourish at this campus, and we will be awed by what you accomplish after you leave. Let me close with one parting question. At the New Student Convocation for the class of 2030, what story will the convocation speaker share about you that inspires future generations of Mason students?

Write to Robin Herron at rherron@gmu.edu

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