George Mason University reached a milestone in its history on May 12, when the Alumni Association marked its 50th anniversary with a gala celebration at EagleBank Arena attended by more than 500 alumni, university leaders, and other members of the Mason community.
The Alumni Association honored the accomplishments of 50 “exemplars,” alumni who exemplify the Mason experience and collectively define what it means to be a Mason graduate. A diverse group that spans every decade from the 1960s onward, every school and college, and a multitude of professions, the exemplars illustrate how alumni have used their Mason degree to make an impact around the world. Exemplars came from near and far to attend the celebration, including Min Zaw Oo, MS ’02 PhD Conflict Analysis and Resolution ’10, a leading peace adviser who traveled from Myanmar for the event. (Read bios for each of the exemplars here).
The class of 1968, which established Mason’s own alumni association rather than join the University of Virginia’s, was well-represented, with 11 of its 52 graduates in attendance. Ted McCord, BA History ’68, MA History ’76, currently an associate professor at Mason teaching U.S. history, spoke for his classmates, describing them as “men and women who possessed a certain pioneering spirit, believing that they were the advance party of what would become a major institution.”
Alumni Association president Brian Jones, MA International Commerce and Policy ’06, was master of ceremonies. “From 52 alumni in 1968 to 187,000 today, we have seen unprecedented growth for an institution of our age,” Jones said. “In 50 years we have established a foundation through service, advocacy, and philanthropy to help Mason become the university that we are proud to call home.”
Twenty past presidents of the Alumni Association were in attendance, the most ever gathered in one place. Two of them, Ted Arnn, BS Law Enforcement ’93, and Tennille Parker, BA Government and Politics ’97, narrated the exemplar honors presentation.
The anniversary’s “we are golden” theme was evident in the decor at EagleBank Arena, which transformed from arena to ballroom for the evening. Arriving guests entered by walking a gold carpet, then traversed a history hallway, curated by Mason’s Special Collections Research Center, that displayed photos and class yearbooks from the 1960s to the present.
Guests proceeded from a pre-dinner reception on the concourse level, down the arena steps to the floor. There they found not a basketball court, but a glamorously lit space framed by 40-foot-high white drapes, filled with dozens of round tables beautifully arranged with centerpieces of pink roses and white hydrangeas. Six giant chandeliers overhead helped set the mood. Against the sheer drapes hung banner-size historic photos, while two giant video screens behind the stage projected the entire event for guests.
The program included three videos produced by GMU-TV for the 50th anniversary, one featuring a conversation with volunteer leaders Lovey Hammel, BS Business Administration ’88 and Jimmy Hazel, JD ’84. Music was provided by the Green Machine Ensembles, led by Doc Nix, and the George Mason University Guitar Quartet, under the direction of Matt Trkula, MM ’14.
The Alumni Association marked the importance of philanthropy at Mason by presenting a check to the George Mason University Foundation for $78,540, money raised for the 50th Anniversary Scholarship Endowment.
In his closing remarks, President Ángel Cabrera highlighted the uniqueness of the Mason story. Mason has become Virginia’s largest public research university because for decades it has refused to take no for an answer, Cabrera said. Mason Patriots persevered and accomplished great things even when others said they couldn’t.
“We dream big,” Cabrera concluded. “We don’t mind the naysayers. We work hard. Lovey Hammel said in the video that ‘when the door opens, walk through it.’ And I tell you if it doesn’t open, kick it open. Kick it open, then walk through it. Then hold it open for many others to follow.”