Saving the Best for Last: GSE Celebrates Graduates

It seemed for a little while that the May 20, 2017 College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) School of Education (GSE) Degree Celebration might not happen.  After all, University Commencement had run more than an hour longer than expected, eating into the turn-around time between ceremonies.  Doctoral students who should have been lining up with their dissertation chairs in the lobby were still inside Eagle Bank Arena being hooded.  Master’s candidates were milling in the parking lot, texting friends inside the commencement ceremony and trying to decide if there was time to run and grab lunch before lining up again for their Degree Celebration.  CEHD staff waited in the arena wings for the strains of Pomp and Circumstance to signal the end of University Commencement and cue them into action.  Before the last university graduate had processed out, crews began busily setting up for the GSE ceremony, rearranging the stage and bringing the color guard in to practice, placing programs on seats and speeches at podiums.  If George Mason University had “saved the best for last” in scheduling the School of Education Degree Celebration, then it was essential that those who were last received only the best.

Eventually, of course, this day of celebration did straighten itself out.  Grads made the most of the extra time by sharing hugs and selfies with their cohorts and faculty.  Family settled into their seats and Pomp and Circumstance played one last time.  GSE Faculty Marshals in their colorful regalia led their students into Eagle Bank Arena for the final official celebration of their academic accomplishments. Despite the wait, there was real joy in that sea of green robes. Along with the usual messages of thanks to family and inspirational sayings, more than a few mortar boards were decked out like mini classroom blackboards, with messages in chalk.  Others sported #2 pencils, apples, and rulers.  Proud teachers and education leaders found their seats and then waved to family in the crowd.

Dr. Mark Ginsberg, Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, serving as master of ceremonies for the event, stepped to the podium to warmly welcome the graduates, promising them that “Your work as educators will be life changing,” both for themselves and the students they serve.  He then called upon student speaker Sara Magdi Hussein to share her own transformation as a GSE student.  Sara, who came to the U.S. as a thirteen-year-old from Sudan, told the audience how, as a Mason undergraduate in Psychology, she had been shy and narrowly-focused on earning the education her family so highly prized. She described the risk she took when deciding, as a candidate for a Masters in Counseling and Development, to overcome her culture’s stigmas surrounding mental health and to give up her role as “the invisible girl” so that she could become an advocate for others.  In challenging herself, Sara discovered just what a strong woman she truly is.  She thanked her family, colleagues, and faculty for helping her to grow.  “I am grateful for the risks I have taken because they have brought me to where I always needed to be,” Sara told them. 

When Dean Ginsberg stepped to the podium to thank Sara, the audience expected him to then introduce the celebration’s guest speaker, Dr. Daniel Domenech, Executive Director of the American Association of School Administrators.  Instead they got the harrowing but humorous story of Dr. Ginsberg and Dr. Domenech exchanging text messages in the wake of Dr. Domenech’s last-minute orthopedic injury and his valiant efforts to attend the degree celebration despite pain, surgery, and doctor’s orders.  Disappointed not to be able to introduce his friend, but nonetheless undaunted, Dean Ginsberg delivered a powerful message to the graduates: “You might not become rich [as education professionals], but you will become, and forever be, enriched because you make a difference in the lives of others every single day.” He then presented the 2017 Distinguished Service to Education Award in absentia to Dr. Domenech before honoring retiring CEHD faculty members, Dr. Peter Barcher and Dr. Joseph Maxwell.

Following the speeches, the dean progressed to the long-awaited highlight of the day:  the conferral of degrees and certificates.  Graduates of the Mason LIFE (Learning into Future Environments) Program led the way, proudly accepting their certificates for completing Mason’s post-secondary program for young adults with developmental and intellectual disAbilities.  The 21 candidates for Doctor of Philosophy in Education then came to the stage to be presented with the CEHD Academic Achievement Medal by their dissertation chairs in recognition of their scholarly accomplishments and degree completion. 

The single largest graduate group consisted of the candidates for master’s degrees.  Nearly 500 students representing Counseling and Development, Curriculum and Instruction, Education Leadership, Educational Psychology, and Special Education, from all ages and walks of life, crossed the stage to cheers from family and friends.  One graduate even carried her baby with her.  As each master’s program was presented, Associate Dean Ellen Rodgers announced the names of the program’s award winners, who were recognized with a plaque in honor of their academic achievement.  CEHD’s largest group of graduates was followed by its smallest: the 5 students receiving GSE’s only bachelor’s degrees in Human Development and Family Science, a co-curricular program of study with the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. When he had finished shaking the hands of all the graduates as they crossed the stage, Dean Ginsberg asked all students receiving master’s-level certificates to stand and be recognized. 

In concluding the ceremony, and to “make it official”, Dean Ginsberg invited each graduate to turn their tassel to the left signifying their new status as Mason Alumni. He reminded them that today was not an end, but rather a beginning of their professional journey.  He urged them to show their Patriot Pride by wearing their lapel pin, giving back to Mason, and using the luggage tag that had been placed upon their seat.  “Take your university with you wherever life takes you,” he reminded them.  “Once a Patriot, Always a Patriot.”

The School of Education 2017 Program Award Winners:

Abigail Konopasky

Doctor of Philosophy in Education

Meghan Elizabeth Miller

Advanced Studies in Teaching and Learning

Howard E. Eaves Jr., School Counseling

Thu-An Trinh, Community Agency Counseling

Counseling and Development

Alanna Dawkins

Early Childhood Education for Diverse Learners

Kurt W. Soderstrom

Early Childhood Special Education

Sarah R. Whelan

Education Leadership

Elysia Howe, Assessment, Evaluation, and Training

Grace Wingo, Learning Cognition, and Motivation

Jun Ye, Learning and Decision-Making in Leadership

Educational Psychology

Charmaine Go Smith

Amy Christine Wynant

Elementary Education

Leanna Panasethaned Moron

Human Development and Family Science

Todd Irvin, Instructional Design and Technology

Learning Technologies

Sara Anne Greenberg


Karen A. Beir

Mathematics Specialist Leader

Lydia Erin Bradshaw, English

Sara Louise Evers, Social Studies

Amanda Marie Hoelscher, Science

Jordan N. Koca, Mathematics

Secondary Education

Sarah B. Forgione

Stacie Brady, Assistive Technology

Jessica Caylor, Vision Impairment

Blair Alexandra Kersh, Students with Disabilities Who Access the Adapted Curriculum

Rachel Bunting McCain, Students with Disabilities Who Access the General Curriculum

Taylor Lynn Morrison, Applied Behavior Analysis

Special Education

Harry L. Althoff, International Elementary

Site Li, Foreign Language

Bethany Anne Farrell, English as a Second Language

Teaching Culturally and Linguistically Diverse and Exceptional Learners

Brigid Kathleen Donlevie

Transformative Teaching