Declaring “It’s Mason’s time,” George Mason University President Gregory Washington laid out ambitious plans for the university at his Investiture ceremony and, in a moving close to his remarks, dedicated his presidency to Mason students.
“I want you to know that I see you,” Washington said, speaking directly to students in the audience at EagleBank Arena on Thursday afternoon and others tuning in to the event on GMU-TV. “I honor you. And I dedicate my presidency to you.
“I have lived, grown, and ultimately worked my way to this podium facing many of the obstacles you have. I know your journey because I am your journey. As I stand here, I am a living testament to the places your journey can take you.”
Before Washington’s remarks capped the nearly two-hour ceremony, Mason Rector Jimmy Hazel placed around Washington’s neck the Presidential Medallion that signifies the investiture of a new Mason leader.
At the outset of the event, Washington entered the arena with his wife, Nicole, as the Green Machine blasted the Temptations’ “Get Ready,” a fasten-your-seatbelt anthem that foreshadowed Washington’s speech, a bold vision that includes “rescuing our future” to ensure a healthy planet, healthy people, healthy economies, and healthy societies.
“It is our job to conduct research to find solutions to our overlapping grand challenges—and to educate students to solve them,” Washington said.
He added that Mason is well-positioned to be a national exemplar of anti-racism and inclusive excellence because the university looks now like what America will look within this decade, with no ethnic group comprising more than 50% of the population, and Mason’s success at achieving comparable graduation rates from students regardless of racial or ethnic status.
“Who’s better to lead?” Washington asked. “An institution with diversity integrated at its core? Or one that predominantly serves one [ethnic] group? One that already looks like America’s future? Or one that looks like its past?
“I contend to you, it’s Mason’s time.”
Other highlights of Washington’s speech included calling for the establishment of a Mason-led medical school, focused on clinical training, on the Science and Technology Campus, and becoming the ultimate “Point B” institution for students pursuing a degree or needing help starting a business.
“We are not just in the knowledge and degree business,” Washington said. “We are in the success business. No matter where your 'Point A' is, we will get you to your 'Point B.'"
Mason alumna Charniele Herring, majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, served as host of ceremonies. Sen. Tim Kaine and Sen. Mark Warner, and many local and government officials and higher education leaders from throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia provided congratulatory greetings by video, including a message from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
“Around our commonwealth, we have admired how you have guided Mason through a challenging period in your first 18 months on the job,” Northam said. “We’re proud to have you leading our state’s largest, most diverse public university, and we know that Mason will continue to grow and prosper under your leadership.”
The College of William and Mary President Katherine Rowe also spoke of Washington’s rapid emergence as a state higher education leader, noting that the job he accepted in February of 2020 was a different job than the one he inherited July 1 of that year.
COVID-19, the historic economic fallout of the pandemic, and the national racial justice reckoning following the murder of George Floyd forced Washington to revise his plans and priorities.
“In that intense time of partnership, you come to really discover who the people are who you’re working with,” Rowe said. “This is who I know as the person that you have as your new president—someone who is resourceful and creative, who’s laser-focused on mission, whose integrity shines through [in every] challenge that comes his way.”
Washington welcomed the two former Mason presidents represented at the event—Ángel Cabrera, who served as Mason president from 2012 to 2019 and is now president at Georgia Tech, and Eric Merten, representing his late father, Alan Merten, who served as Mason president from 1996 to 2012. Washington also thanked his predecessor, Anne Holton, who served as interim president the year before Washington arrived.
The event was one of both vision and reflection. Washington, a first-generation college graduate who grew up in Harlem, New York, recalled how his mother, Elouise Chisolm, worked multiple jobs to support her family and returned to school to earn her first degree the same year Washington earned his PhD in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State.
Chisolm was on hand at the Investiture, as were the Washingtons’ sons, Joshua and Kaleb, and other family members.
“She is why I understand the full power of education,” Washington said.