Born of Syrian descent in the United States, Hala Gorani has lived multiple places abroad, speaks in an indeterminate accent and is regarded as a foreigner wherever she goes.
Far from being hobbled by those facts, Gorani has found them to be a source of her success.
“Different means good. Different means you are not forgettable,” the London-based correspondent and CNN anchor told George Mason University graduates during May 16 commencement exercises at the Patriot Center. “Your difference is in fact your biggest strength. Cultivate it and be proud of it.”
Knowing employment to be a key concern of the graduates, Gorani advised them to consider money last and negotiate their roles at work rather than their compensation.
“Do what you love to do, what you would consider doing for free – but never do it for free,” she said.
Gorani, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from GMU in 1992, got her start in journalism by writing for the university’s newspaper, Broadside (now called Fourth Estate Weekly).
“Journalism is a passion. You do it because you can’t imagine doing anything else,” Gorani said, adding, “I’m still a frivolous girl in love with a job that doesn’t always return my calls or meet my expectations.”
GMU officials bade farewell to 8,503 graduates during the ceremonies, including 5,110 with bachelor’s degrees, 2,970 with master’s degrees, 155 with law degrees and 268 who earned doctorates.
This year’s top five undergraduate degrees, in descending order, were psychology (388); criminology, law and society (315); biology (282); applied information technology (267); and accounting (254).
Graduates came from 46 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, as well as 68 foreign countries. Twenty-three percent of them earned degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields and 8 percent got their sheepskins in health-sciences fields.
GMU president Ángel Cabrera trumpeted the graduates’ achievements, citing Paige Epler, who came to the university at age 13 and was graduating at age 19 with a bachelor’s degree in biology, to Seth Robertson and Viet Tran, who invented a fire extinguisher that puts out blazes using sound waves.
Cabrera also celebrated the university’s ethos of inclusiveness.
“At Mason, we define our success by how many lives we help, not by how many we turn away,” he said. “Our mission is to be the best university for the world.”
Stuart Mendelsohn, a lawyer and former Dranesville District supervisor who serves as vice rector of GMU’s Board of Visitors, awarded the Mason Medal to Robert Templin Jr., who recently retired as president of Northern Virginia Community College.
Jasjot “Avi” Jaggi, who earned a bachelor’s degree in government and international affairs, gave the graduate address.
Jaggi likened graduates’ quest in life to Joseph Campbell’s 1949 novel, “The Hero with a Thousand Faces.” Heroes begin with a call to adventure, meet mentors to guide them through each threshold of the journey, face final challenges that test their skills and then – crucially – return home to share their knowledge, he said.
Christopher Preston, president of GMU’s Alumni Association, urged the graduates to maintain contact with the university.
“Represent us well, be part of this great thing we’re building and come home from time to time,” he said.
Dressed in green caps and gowns, some of the graduates added artistic touches such as flowers, and even a dinosaur diorama, to their mortarboards. Others decorated their square caps with phrases ranging from tried-and-true (“Thanks, Mom and Dad”) to ones of relief (“And There Was Much Rejoicing”), inspiration (“If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It”) and double-entendre wittiness (“I’m Finally Done with This B.S.”).
Ryan Selove, 23, of Centreville, who earned a bachelor’s degree in integrative studies, said he chose GMU because of its lovely campus, proximity to home and its Center for the Advancement of Well-Being.
Alex Oldershaw, a communications graduate from Woodbridge, liked the university’s access to Washington, D.C., and the many internship opportunities there. He gave high marks to GMU’s faculty.
“The teachers are really down-to-earth and want to help the students,” he said.