This year's graduation speakers come from a wide range of backgrounds in industry and government


In addition to hosting Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin as the featured speaker at Spring Commencement ceremony on May 18, George Mason University features speakers at its individual school and college degree celebrations. They come from a wide range of backgrounds and career paths in industry, government, sustainability, public health, IT and more.

There are 11 degree celebration ceremonies Thursday through Saturday at Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

Thursday, May 18                     

College of Humanities and Social Sciences I and School of Integrative Studies, 2:30 p.m., EagleBank Arena: Horace Blackman

Mason alum Horace Blackman, BA American Studies and English, ’93, is senior vice president and business unit leader at CGI, one of the world’s largest IT and business consulting firms. In this role he is responsible for strategy development and delivering business and information technology solutions to a diverse set of clients within this market.  Blackman is the rector of Mason’s Board of Visitors.

College of Visual and Performing Arts, 3:30 p.m., Concert Hall

The CVPA degree celebration includes student performances.

College of Humanities and Social Sciences II, 6:30 p.m., EagleBank Arena: Sol Salinas

Mason alum Sol Salinas, BA Psychology, BS Marketing '85, is a corporate sustainability expert and digital transformation global thought leader, and a staunch advocate of human-centered design. He was one of the founders of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR program and served as its director of strategic planning and brand czar from 1991 to 2005. He has also been a global managing director at Accenture, where he led a $300 million global smart infrastructure and smart cities practice.

Friday, May 19  

College of Science, 10 a.m. EagleBank Arena: Mark Monson

Mason alum Mark Monson, BS Biology ’74, began his career as a laboratory technician for the Fairfax County government and retired from Virginia state government in Richmond after nearly 40 years of service. In 2014, Monson retired from the Department of Health Professions, where he served as deputy director. Monson served two terms (2015–22) as a citizen member of the Virginia Board of Nursing. He is also president of the College of Science alumni chapter.

Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, 11 a.m., Concert Hall: Sara Cobb

Sara Cobb is the Drucie French Cumbie Professor at the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, where she also served as the director for eight years. She teaches and conducts research on the relationship between narrative and violent conflict. She is also the director of the Center for the Study of Narrative and Conflict Resolution at the Carter School, which provides a hub for scholarship on narrative approaches to conflict analysis and resolution.

Schar School of Policy and Government, 2 p.m., EagleBank Arena: Kiran Ahuja

Kiran Ahuja is the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the agency that serves as the chief human resources and personnel policy manager for the federal government, representing a national workforce of some two million federal employees, the nation’s largest. Ahuja, the first South Asian American and first Asian American woman to lead the agency, was appointed by President Joe Biden and sworn into office in June 2021. Learn more

Antonin Scalia Law School, 3 p.m., Concert Hall: Rachel Brand

Rachel Brand is executive vice president of global governance, chief legal officer and corporate secretary of Walmart Inc. She oversees the company’s global legal, compliance, ethics, corporate governance, digital citizenship, aviation, investigative, and corporate security functions, including Walmart’s Emergency Operations Center. Before joining Walmart, she served as the U.S. associate attorney general and holds the distinction of being the first woman to serve in this role.

College of Engineering and Computing, 6 p.m., EagleBank Arena: Robert Simmons

Robert Simmons leads all social impact philanthropy and STEM programming in North America and STEM programming for Micron Technology and the Micron Foundation. As a noted scholar on issues of racial equity, Simmons also serves as a scholar in residence and Scholar of Antiracist Praxis at the School of Education at American University where he continues his research in the education policy and leadership department. Learn more.

Saturday, May 20        

College of Education and Human Development, 10 a.m., EagleBank Arena: Shanika Hope

Shanika Hope is the director of tech education at Google. She is a former elementary school teacher, principal and high school turnaround specialist. Prior to her current role at Google, she held several leadership roles at Amazon and was vice president of national urban markets initiatives at McGraw Hill Education,  vice president of curriculum and instruction at Discovery Education, and assistant superintendent of elementary and secondary education for the Washington, D.C.’s State Education Office.

College of Public Health, 2 p.m., EagleBank Arena: Ashish Jha

A practicing physician, Ashish Jha was appointed as coordinator of the COVID-19 response by President Biden. In his former role, he served as dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University. He is recognized globally as an expert on pandemic preparedness and response and domestic and global health policy. Jha has led groundbreaking research around Ebola and has been a trusted voice on the COVID-19 response by leading national and international analysis of key issues and advising state and federal policymakers.  Learn more.

School of Business, 6 p.m., EagleBank Arena: Amy Gilliland

Amy Gilliland is president of General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), a business unit of General Dynamics Corporation. GDIT is a $8.5B global technology enterprise with operations in 30 countries worldwide and 30,000 technologists and services professionals delivering critical mission capabilities across defense, civilian, and intelligence agencies. Gilliland has more than 25 years of public-sector experience including service in the U.S. Navy and nearly two decades in leadership positions at General Dynamics.