Fourth Estate/Allison Alberty


On March 22, Mason announced that Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin will address the Class of 2023 at our Spring Commencement Ceremony.

This announcement was met with immediate backlash from Mason students. Senior Alaina Ruffin created a petition to oppose Gov. Youngkin as the commencement speaker. As of March 29, the petition has garnered over 6,000 signatures.

However, the response that Mason’s administration offered to the student body has been most disappointing. On March 27, President Gregory Washington authored “What it means to be a Patriot”, a statement that largely stands by the bigoted policies of Gov. Youngkin and ignores the concerns of students. 

President Washington’s defense of this decision included the preservation of the tradition that all Virginia Governors are invited to the university. 

As well as the idea that allowing students to “safely engage in debate and discourse” prepares us to enter a world full of conflict. President Washington offers no apology, alternative solution, a forum to listen to students, resources for students who are upset or real understanding of how betrayed students feel by his actions. 

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of this letter is the following, “As Patriots, we are many things, but we are ALL of these things TOGETHER. And that’s what makes us beautifully DIFFERENT. And that’s what it means to be a Patriot. 

I look forward to meeting and continuing discussions on this issue.”

Gov. Youngkin has backed anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation at the state level, stood against “racial equity in education policy” and has made racially insensitive comments to Democratic legislators in Virginia. As a university that prides itself on diversity, many students identify with marginalized groups who have been specifically targeted by the Governor and his policies.

President Washington and Mason’s administration have ignored the fact that for many students, commencement serves as one of the most important days of our lives and a celebration of years of hard work. 

President Washington’s leadership throughout the past year has been defined by ignoring the concerns of the student body. There has still not been a resolution to the incident of Students for Life comparing abortion to slavery earlier this year, where President Washington has not supported BLACC Mason’s concerns of “We Demand Action”. As the first Black president of Mason, students of color were especially hopeful that they would receive more resources and support from President Washington’s administration than they have previously, but have been met with empty promises. 

We at the Fourth Estate are also disappointed that there has been no response by Mason’s administration to ensure the safety of the student body. The Fourth Estate reported that Mason PD had fist-bumped anti-abortion protestors and that a murderer was attending Mason. Mason’s administration still has yet to directly comment on or respond to these reports. They have failed to make any attempt to protect the safety of students, instead choosing to push things under the rug and pretend they never happened.

President Washington has also repeatedly ignored the Fourth Estate’s requests for an interview. How can President Washington feel accessible to students for open discussion if he isn’t available to speak with the student press and explain the administration’s rationale for decision-making?

President Washington has a vested interest in supporting Gov. Youngkin, as he approves the university’s yearly budget. However, we hope that President Washington prioritizes the requests and concerns of his students over personal political relationships and money in the future.

President Washington does not know what it means to be a Patriot. What it really means to be a Patriot, is to stand up to policies that explicitly exclude specific groups of people from a greater community. 

Commencement is about students, not politicians. Students at Mason should not feel attacked by the administration on the day when we should feel the most supported and celebrated. We can only hope that President Washington and Mason’s administration realize that and respect the Class of 2023’s wishes to remove Gov. Youngkin as commencement speaker.