College of Humanities and Social Sciences 2021 Mini Celebrations Bring CHSS Community Together

by Anne Reynolds

College of Humanities and Social Sciences 2021 Mini Celebrations Bring CHSS Community Together

There is no question that the classes of 2020 and 2021 lived through an experience like no others. The College of Humanities and Social Sciences was proud to join with George Mason University in offering a commencement experience similarly unprecedented.

On May 11, 2021, the sun shone brilliantly on 2020 and 2021 CHSS graduates of as they gathered for the college’s two Mini Celebrations. Rows of seats, arranged in groups of four, faced a large stage situated between EagleBank Arena and Braddock Road in Lot L. Dean Ann Ardis addressed the graduates and their guests, then exchanged elbow-bumps, mimed air-handshakes, and even received one curtsey as nearly 300 students received their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in person.

Borne out of a concern for social distancing and a desire to offer students the opportunity for in-person celebrations, each school and college at Mason designed their own Mini Ceremonies, limited to no more than 200 graduates apiece, who each were invited to include three guests.

Dean Ardis noted the momentous nature of the day’s events: “As I stand here today looking out at the faces of my own colleagues, your families and friends, and especially you, our graduates, I do so with a new sense of the preciousness of gatherings such as this as well as profound respect for how all of you have forged ahead with your lives.”

The Honorable Roderick Young, BA Speech Communication ’89, MA English ’94, a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, spoke by video to the graduates, encouraging the students to cherish their loved ones. “Give your parents and loved ones a big hug because that’s all they want,” he said. “They don’t want to be paid back. They don’t want their name on your degree. All they want is a hug to let them know that you appreciated everything that they’ve done for you.” Young is the recipient of the college’s 2021 Distinguished Alumni Award, and recalled for the students his experiences on Mason’s Fairfax Campus.

The first of the college’s two ceremonies recognized students earning degrees in the humanities and interdisciplinary programs, and featured remarks from fellow graduate Devin Stewart, BS Geography, BA Foreign Languages ’21. Stewart spoke to his classmates about the “very beneficial circumstance” of his experiences at Mason, admitting that it had once been his second-choice school. “I think, given the events of the last year or so,” he said, “many of us found ourselves in places or situations we did not anticipate…However, I don’t feel like that is a bad thing.” He concluded, “You just might stumble upon a fortuitous opportunity, if you remember to look toward the light.”

Later, the college celebrated students earning degrees in the social sciences, and included remarks from graduate Olivia O’Brien, BA Communication ’21. O’Brien, a four-year member of Mason’s women’s lacrosse team, spoke to the graduates about lessons learned as a student athlete, as well as from the culture shock she felt as she initially arrived on Mason’s campus from a very small private high school. Noting a mentor’s advice to cherish the few people in your life with whom you truly connect, O’Brien concluded, “George Mason has not only given a few people who I feel connected with, but an entire community.”

Each of the celebrations was broadcast live on Mason’s YouTube channel; the recordings are available here for the humanities and interdisciplinary programs event and here for the social sciences event. The live broadcast and the recordings expanded the audience for the ceremonies; with more than 7,000 views, families and friends were able to participate from near and far.

Mason’s 54th Commencement week culminated in a virtual Commencement ceremony that featured remarks from First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. For spring and summer 2021, the college celebrated 1,216 undergraduates, 257 master’s degree recipients, and 28 new doctoral graduates.

You can view a selection of photos of the ceremonies on the college’s Instagram post about the ceremony.