The George Mason University School of Business celebrated 1,157 graduates, 832 undergraduate students, 219 graduate students, and 106 certificates, at a special ceremony on Saturday, May 20 at EagleBank Arena.
These new graduates join a School of Business network of more than 36,000 alumni, 70% of whom live in the Northern Virginia region.
Most undergraduate students in this graduating class began their degree in-person, pivoted to virtual learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and then many returned in a hybrid-delivery. Graduating students had to learn the meaning of resilience, and accept change throughout the course of their education. “You all have weathered some incredibly challenging times and through hard work and determination you have succeeded,” said Dean Ajay Vinzé.
The ceremony kicked off with the traditional call of the bagpipes to indicate a call to action, calling all attendees to celebrate the achievement of our graduates.
“I often say “Everything is business” and as business school graduates these words have a special meaning for you. Regardless of where your career aspirations and choices may lead, you will be in the business of something,” said Dean Vinzé. “I have every confidence that the education you have received here at George Mason University will enable you to lead anywhere. You are prepared, you are ready, and as the class of 2023, you will make us proud.”
Dean Vinzé emphasized the quote from American business magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller, “The secret of success is to do the common thing uncommonly well.”
“We live in a world where change is the only constant. Changing consumer demographics are driving new innovations in technology, new economic paradigms are creating more and larger opportunities, disruptive business models are fueling changing consumer expectations, and globalization is leading to increased competition–“average” is no longer good enough–outstanding is the expectation. While the path to success will look different for each of you, and you should forge your own way based on your unique passions, goals and talents. No matter where you go, or what you do, remember you will have a degree from Mason in hand and all of us in the School of Business–faculty and staff, cheering you on.”
Featured speakers at the degree celebration included Amy Gilliland, president of General Dynamics Information Technology (GDIT), graduating MBA student Alexis Anyang-Kusi, and president of the School of Business Alumni Chapter, Pam Maple, MBA ’09.
Gilliland, a recognized innovative leader in the aerospace and defense industry and former member of the U.S. Navy, is currently serving as the vice chair of the Northern Virginia Technology Council and has been recognized as one of Virginia Business Magazine’s 50 Most Influential Virginians, a Washington Tech Titan, and is a five-time Wash100 award winner. GDIT employs more than 500 Mason alumni.
Gilliland said, “Class of 2023, as you take the next step in your careers—regardless of your field—you will find the business world is a different place than when you entered George Mason. In fact, the past three years experienced more disruption of leadership philosophy than the half century which preceded it. And, I can say with great enthusiasm and optimism, we will be better for it.”
Gilliland told graduates not to let a pre-determined career path or timeline prevent them from pursuing a career they love, and to recognize that everyone is struggling with something. “It’s okay to not know exactly what your plan or purpose is now, next year, or even five years from now,” she said. “Be open to unconventional or unplanned opportunities even if you do not feel fully qualified.”
Gilliland encouraged students to find a “soul” in their work. “Through its soul, I believe the workplace has the power to create the relationships, restore the trust, instill a sense of safety and decency that many feel have diminished in recent years. I believe tethering people to the soul of a company could quite possibly reduce the sense of loneliness that health experts claim to be at epidemic proportions today,” said Gilliland. “And what does business get in return for exposing its soul? It gets the best thinking, the best ideas, and the highest levels of commitment from its employees. It gets people willing to take risks and put themselves out there to inspire those around them. To achieve new levels of inspiration and innovation—and new levels of performance—a company with a soul has to be fundamental to its strategy.”
Graduate student Alexis Anyang-Kusi, a first-generation African American student, dedicated her degree to her father, who came to Mason in 1982 from Ghana on a student visa. She said, “I was always very aware of my privilege and the amazing opportunities I had in this country. I feel blessed to gain this education but to also share it with the world.”
“At Mason, I gained an appreciation for diversity, an understanding of cultural differences, and the international experience required to become an active global citizen,” said Anyang-Kusi. She implored her fellow graduates to remember their shared responsibility. “We must use our skills and knowledge to make a positive impact on the world, to create opportunities for others, and to drive change.”
School of Business Alumni Chapter President Pam Maple, MBA ’09 welcomed the new graduates into the Alumni Association. A dedicated Mason Patriot and the founder and president of Zero Energy, Maple is an accomplished entrepreneur and leader in the field of sustainable and renewable energy.
“Inspiration is intangible as it means something different to each of us and its value is unique to the individual. But inspiration is the harbinger of motivation. And I bet most of you can pinpoint the magical moment you were inspired and what motivated you to reach such an important achievement,” said Maple. “It’s because of my mother that inspiring others through higher education is so important to me. This is also why I choose to be active in the Alumni Chapter, to learn from others and give something back to the institution that gave so much to me…Continue to keep your eyes and minds open to new sources of inspiration.”
During the ceremony, students and faculty award recipients were also acknowledged. Graduate Student Academic Awards were presented to the graduates who, in the judgment of the faculty, have demonstrated overall excellence in academic performance in their degree program. Recipients included: Nicolene Fasen, Outstanding Student for in-person MBA; Jessica Green, Outstanding Student for online MBA; Ann Butler, Outstanding Student in Master of Science in Accounting; Sean Prendergast, Outstanding Student in Master of Science in Finance; Georges Barakat, Outstanding Student in Master of Science in Management; Aimee Fogarty and Malik Salifu, Outstanding Students in Master of Science in Real Estate Development; and Sanjeev Agarwal and Gabriel Wedel, Outstanding Students in Master of Science in Technology Management.
Undergraduate Student Academic Awards were presented to graduating seniors, nominated by the faculty and selected for outstanding scholastic achievement, maturity, and excellence in pursuit of their academic and professional career for each concentration. Recipients included: Ramsha Khanum, Outstanding Student in Accounting; Julia N. Cardarelli, Outstanding Student in Business Analytics; Luis Paz-Perez, Outstanding Student in Finance; Abyad T. Kheri, Outstanding Student in Financial Planning and Wealth Management; Hanan Isse, Outstanding Student in Information Systems and Operations Management; Sachi Gour, Outstanding Student in Management; Yohan Do, Outstanding Student in Management Information Systems; Yasmin Nakhleh Jubran, Outstanding Student in Marketing; and Joseph Lee Donald, Outstanding Student in Operations and Supply Chain Management.
This year’s faculty members who were designated as Outstanding Professor in their area were also acknowledged. Faculty included Young Hoon Kim (Accounting), Derek Horstmeyer (Finance), Jehanzeb Cheema (Information Systems and Operations Management), Matt Cronin (Management), Russell Abratt (Marketing), and Gretchen Hendricks (Business Foundations).
Prior to the School of Business Degree Celebration, George Mason University celebrated its 56th University Commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 18, graduating a class of nearly 11,000 degree and certificate earners from 111 countries, 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and military installations.
George Mason University President Gregory Washington noted that this undergraduate class is the last four-year class to have entered college before the pandemic. “The pandemic put so much stress on the fabric of our world that society seemed to start coming apart at the seams,” said President Washington. “But you all stuck together. You did what you had to do in order to get through the pandemic.”
“Just as you are the last graduating class to have entered before the pandemic, you are also the first generation of American’s that will lead the new world that now rises up before us,” said President Washington.
School of Business alumna and Mason Alumni Association President Christine Landoll, BS Accounting ’89, MS Taxation ’92, welcomed the new graduates to the network of more than 225,000 alumni worldwide, encouraging the new alumni to stay connected through mentoring, guest speaking, serving on advisory boards, and attending Mason events.
“This is your Mason family,” Landoll said. “So use them. Leverage them. Help each other out. That’s what we do.”