Since I announced that I was stepping down as Mason’s president, people often ask me whether I am going to miss _______. They fill in this blank with a variety of things. I refuse, at least for now, to use the word “miss” because it implies sadness. I’m trying to celebrate everything I have done and what I am going to do. There is so much to celebrate and feel good about.
When I was named president of Mason, Sol Linowitz, ambassador to the Organization of American States under President Lyndon Johnson, gave me some great advice. I met him when I was a dean of the Johnson School at Cornell. He became one of my mentors. He told me, “You are going to have enormous demands on your time. Keep in mind that where you show up ‘blesses’ things.” He called it “presidential attention.” Man, was he right. It isn’t important to stay for the whole event; just 15 minutes makes an impact.
Now this makes for multiple event evenings and weekends. It isn’t unusual for my wife, Sally, and me to have cocktails at one event, salad at another, and so on. But it is important, so I have always made sure I was there.
People come up to me all the time at these parties and events to tell me how much we’ve accomplished. They talk of the pride they feel about what we’ve done, and how it has changed the community and far beyond. This is a better community because of what Mason has done.
People always expected the university to improve, but I don’t think anyone expected it to get this good, this big, this well known, this fast. About a year ago, I had the opportunity to give Til Hazel a brief tour of the eastern side of the Fairfax Campus. He looked at me and he said, “This was my dream. But you are just way ahead of where I thought we would be.” If we can exceed Til Hazel’s expectations, we are doing okay.
About a year into my job at Mason, one of my dear friends asked me how it was going. I told him I had realized that, given the way I do things, there are few universities where I could tolerate being president. He laughed and said, “There are very few universities that could tolerate you.” As with all relationships, there has to be the right chemistry.
Do I like being a university president? I don’t know. But I do know that I have loved being George Mason University’s president. I’m not going to miss it, but I’m really grateful I got to do it.
Alan G. Merten
President, George Mason University