Declaring “It’s Mason’s time,” George Mason University president Gregory Washington laid out ambitious plans for the university at his Investiture and, in a moving close to his remarks, dedicated his presidency to Mason students.
“I want you to know that I see you,” Washington said, speaking directly to students in the audience at EagleBank Arena on October 21 and others tuning in to the event on GMU-TV. “I honor you. And I dedicate my presidency to you.”
Washington added, “I have lived, grown, and ultimately worked my way to this podium facing many of the obstacles you have. I know your journey because I am your journey. As I stand here, I am a living testament to the places your journey can take you.”
Before Washington’s remarks capped the nearly two-hour ceremony, Mason rector Jimmy Hazel, JD ’84, presented Washington with the Presidential Medallion, which signifies the investiture of a new Mason leader.
At the outset of the event, Washington entered the arena with his wife, Nicole, as the Green Machine blasted The Temptations’ “Get Ready.” The fasten-your-seatbelt anthem foreshadowed Washington’s speech, a bold vision that includes “rescuing our future” to ensure a healthy planet, healthy people, healthy economies, and healthy societies.
“It is our job to conduct research to find solutions to our overlapping grand challenges—and to educate students to solve them,” Washington said.
He added that Mason is well-positioned to be a national exemplar of anti-racism and inclusive excellence because the university population currently looks like what America will look within this decade—with no ethnic group comprising more than 50 percent of the population. Additionally, Mason boasts success at achieving comparable graduation rates by students regardless of racial or ethnic status.
“Who’s better to lead?” Washington asked. “An institution with diversity integrated at its core? Or one that predominantly serves one [ethnic] group? One that already looks like America’s future? Or one that looks like its past?
“I contend to you, it’s Mason’s time.”
Other highlights of Washington’s speech include calling for the establishment of a Mason-led medical school focused on clinical training that would be located on the Science and Technology Campus and becoming the ultimate “Point B” institution for students pursuing a degree or needing help starting a business.
“We are not just in the knowledge and degree business,” Washington said. “We are in the success business. No matter where your ‘Point A’ is, we will get you to your ‘Point B.’”
Charniele Herring, BA Economics ’93, majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates, served as host of ceremonies. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, and many government officials and higher education leaders from throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia provided congratulatory greetings by video, including a message from Governor Ralph Northam.
“Around our commonwealth, we have admired how you have guided Mason through a challenging period in your first 18 months on the job,” Northam said. “We’re proud to have you leading our state’s largest, most diverse public university, and we know that Mason will continue to grow and prosper under your leadership.”
College of William and Mary president Katherine Rowe also spoke of Washington’s rapid emergence as a state higher education leader, noting that the job he accepted in February 2020 was a different job than the one he inherited July 1 of that year.
COVID-19, the historic economic fallout of the pandemic, and the national racial justice reckoning following the murder of George Floyd forced Washington to revise his plans and priorities.
“In that intense time of partnership, you come to really discover who the people are who you’re working with,” Rowe said. “This is who I know you have as your new president—someone who is resourceful and creative, who’s laser-focused on mission, whose integrity shines through in every challenge that comes his way.”
Washington welcomed the two former Mason presidents represented at the event—Ángel Cabrera, who served as Mason president from 2012 to 2019 and is now president of Georgia Tech, and Eric Merten, representing his late father, Alan Merten, who served as Mason president from 1996 to 2012. Washington also thanked his predecessor, Anne Holton, who served as interim president the year before Washington arrived.
The event was one of both vision and reflection. Washington, a first-generation college graduate who grew up in Harlem, New York, recalled how his mother, Elouise Chisolm, worked multiple jobs to support her family and returned to school, earning her first degree the same year Washington earned his PhD in mechanical engineering from North Carolina State.
“She is why I understand the full power of education,” Washington said.
Chisolm was present at the Investiture, as were the Washingtons’ sons, Joshua and Kaleb, and other family members.
Watch the Investiture and other events at bit.ly/gmuinvestiture. Read Washington’s remarks at bit.ly/washingtonspeech.