Ever since I arrived at George Mason University a year ago, I’ve been asked about my background—where I came from and how I got here. So for those of you who are curious, let me tell you a little bit about that.
I was born and reared in the great city of Madrid, the second of four brothers.
During the summer, my brothers and I would go to my mother’s hometown, El Torno, a beautiful but poor farming village in the secluded mountains of Extremadura. There we ran carefree in the woods, swam in creeks, and got ourselves into occasional trouble. When that happened, the infallible magic words that always saved us were “soy el nieto de Don Cesáreo, el maestro” (“I’m the grandson of Don Cesáreo, the teacher”).
The reactions of admiration and deeply felt respect for my grandfather, the teacher, were extraordinary. Granddad had been responsible for the education of the entire town. And for the brightest few, he had played a pivotal part in helping them escape the farming village and become teachers, doctors, or engineers.
I grew up thinking that there could be no profession more important in the world than being a teacher. As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be an educator, like Granddad.
My mom never went to high school, let alone college, because her parents could only afford to send one of their children, and they chose to send their son. My dad, who grew up in Madrid, didn’t go to college either, because he had to work in the family business.
For them, education was a privilege for the few, not an opportunity for all.
It’s remarkable that only one generation separates the experiences of my parents from the experiences of my brothers and me. For my mother as a young girl, the most exciting trip of the year was going the 15 miles to town in a truck full of cattle. As a young boy, my father worked from dusk to dawn to help his family.
But loving parents and a great public education made all things possible for me and my brothers. Who would have thought I’d be president of George Mason University one day? The beauty of George Mason is that stories such as mine are not unusual. They are precisely what we’re about, what we do, day in and day out.
Our top priority is to provide students with a transformational learning experience that helps them grow as individuals, scholars, and professionals. By doing this, we as educators help change the world one person at a time.