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Deans Blog: Bet on yourself

students at graduation

Last week was the 150th running of the Kentucky Derby. The horse race, steeped in tradition, provided us a photo finish with three horses going for the win. Like most things we experience in life, the race was not without some drama and controversy. Mystik Dan, the winning horse, was able to hold on for the victory with two other horses jostling amongst themselves astride of him. Although the victor wasn't 'the favorite,' the horse ran a winning race just the same. And the drama beside him would only distract the others from the ultimate prize of the winner's circle, and a spot in history. 

As the semester comes to a close, it becomes the end of one of life's races, the finishing of a chapter for each of us. Before turning the page launching into the next adventure, perhaps it's worth it to take just a moment in the winner's circle to smell the roses and reflect on what we've just experienced and learned. 

Who were the main characters in that part of our story? What activities and moments were most memorable, both good and bad? What did they teach us? Who should we appreciate and express our gratitude for the good run we've each had?

Like many of our graduates that we celebrate this week, I too am looking back at the last four years I've had at George Mason University. I became a Mason Science Patriot right at the beginning of the pandemic, when learning and research shifted into a great unknown. At first, we started out somewhat isolated from each other, which was not easy. What it did do though, was validate our focus on learning and positively impacting the world with our science. We embraced the challenge with grit and determination, fostering new collaborations and ways of learning. 

During that time, we were encouraged to be out in nature. I was able to take the long hikes I love, which gave me opportunities to think deeply about my scientific pursuits and the problems of the world I wanted to help solve. At that time, I placed a bet on myself, and on each of us, that we would find ways to make our dreams happen.

As we eased out of the pandemic, I came to appreciate the little things…seeing someone face to face in a hallway, taking my dog for a walk, being able to get on a plane and travel to meet with my collaborators in person instead of by zoom. Our science continued; I published my research findings with perhaps a greater sense of urgency. I taught my classes with a renewed sense of purpose and, yes...hope.

As we celebrate this special graduation, I first thank the many members of the Mason Science community for providing a safe and nurturing place to cultivate ideas and dream big goals. I thank our faculty, staff, and administrators who worked so hard each day to serve our students and our communities. Our research efforts continue to transform, and even still in the midst of global strife, we remain focused to make a real difference in our world and our society. 

As I reflect on the accomplishments of my time at Mason, I've come to appreciate many things. The value of a strategic plan. The need to take smart risks and make both the easy and sometimes difficult decisions to reach our collective goals. When the final grades come in, they will reflect our efforts. You get out of something what you put into it. I've strived for greater transparency, civility, and freedom to make good choices in our race. 

Life is constantly changing. Whether it be a new brand and logo or a new direction we take, I realize the most important lessons might just be, to appreciate the little things which add up to big things, being able to let go of the past to bravely go into a bright future, and ultimately, being willing to believe and bet on ourselves to win.