Largest-ever group of winter graduates encouraged to live the journey of their own truth

Graduates celebrate at the 2019 Winter Graduation ceremony at EagleBank Arena on Dec. 19. Photo by Ron Aira/Creative Services.

Alumna Zainab Salbi, BIS ’96, encouraged George Mason University graduates to “be the one that believes in someone else’s dreams,” just as Mason faculty had encouraged her.  

Salbi, who founded global relief organization Women for Women International while she was a Mason student, addressed the largest group of winter graduates in university history Thursday at EagleBank Arena on the Fairfax Campus.

“My professors believed in me,” said Salbi, who came to Mason as an Iraqi immigrant. “And for that, I cannot tell you the difference they made in my life for believing in this young student’s dreams. ... Mason welcomed me and nurtured me and really supported me to become the woman I am standing in front of you today. For that I am extremely grateful.”

The winter graduating class of 2019 included more than 4,600 graduates and totaled more than 5,000 when counting students earning certificates. They represent 54 countries and 37 states.

Mason Interim President Anne Holton, presiding over the ceremony for the first time, spoke of the graduates using Mason as “a trampoline to life success.”

“May you all bounce high, and may you all bounce far,” she said.

Holton noted that 34% of the bachelor’s degree recipients were in STEM fields, as were 23% of the graduate degree earners. In each ceremony when Holton asked the first-generation graduates—about one-third of the class—to stand and be recognized, warm applause filled the arena.

Salbi spoke at both the morning and afternoon ceremonies, stepping in for the scheduled afternoon speaker, Deborah Willis, PhD Cultural Studies ‘03, University Professor and chair of the Department of Photography and Imaging at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University. Willis had to cancel early in the week because of an illness.

Mason Board of Visitors member Lisa Zuccari, BIS ’89, presented Salbi with an honorary doctor of humane letters during the morning ceremony.

Josi Braithwaite, BA Communication, ’19, gave the student address at the morning ceremony, and Tiffany Dawson, BS Management ’19, spoke at the afternoon ceremony.

Salbi encouraged the graduates to resist the material measures of success at the expense of finding something that truly matters to them.

“Live life out of your own truth,” Salbi said. “Live it today. Now. Not tomorrow, not the day after. For if you deny yourself the most important truth of what your heart longs for, that longing shall always find its way and itch in your mind and your brain of why am I not living my truth today? We can live the journey of our truth every single day.”