Merten to cap last academic year as president at 2012 commencement

President Merten speaks at the Mason's 40th Anniversary Gala on April 28 (Dakota Cunningham).
President Merten speaks at the Mason's 40th Anniversary Gala on April 28 (Dakota Cunningham).

President Alan Merten will complete his last academic year as George Mason University's president with a speech on teachers, celebrations and new beginnings at Mason’s 45th commencement ceremony.

President Alan Merten will complete his last academic year as George Mason University's president next week with a speech on teachers, celebrations and new beginnings at Mason’s 45th commencement ceremony.

Merten was Mason’s commencement speaker in 1996, following his first year as university president and in years since he has spoken at several commencements for other high schools and colleges. According to Sharon Cullen, manager of presidential operations and activities, this year Merten continues a Mason tradition of departing presidents speaking at commencement.

“Historically, it’s been my responsibility as the President to suggest to the Board of Visitors who the commencement speaker is going to be,” Merten said in an interview. “This year, before I made any suggestions, they asked me to do it. I wasn’t surprised. I think since it’s my last year, I expected it.”

Merten steps down at the end of June.

Mason boasts a history of commencement speakers that includes Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, former Virginia Governor and U.S. Senator George Allen. Mason senior and outgoing Student Body President Ally Bowers looks forward to President Merten joining the list.

“He’s a great individual,” Bowers said. “He’s done so much in his lifetime, I think it’s going to be a very insightful speech and I think it’s a great way for him to come to closure with his term.”

Dr. Angel Cabrera, current president of Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, will follow President Merten and become Mason's sixth president in July. 

After taking a break in the fall, Merten will return to Mason in the Spring 2013 semester to teach.

“I’ve been approached by several faculty and several of the other colleges and schools on campus to talk about leadership,” Merten said.

For his upcoming commencement speech, Merten culled ideas from his other farewell addresses and previous commencement speeches.

“One thing I’ve talked about before, and I might talk about now, is that I hope every student and beyond whose there will, over the next weeks and months, have the opportunity to reflect back on a teacher that he or she had,” Merten said. “I want people to reflect on people who’ve made a difference in their lives.”

Merten said commencement is significant apart from other year-end events.

“Commencement has a unique role,” Merten said. “Commencement means beginning, and we have a ceremony dedicated to the beginning that rewards people for what they’ve done in the past.”

Bowers looks forward to Merten bringing his excitement to the commencement ceremony.

“I feel that his presence always brings so much to the atmosphere of whatever that experience is,” said Bowers, who recalled her favorite memories of Merten with his T-shirt gun at Mason basketball games, launching shirts into the cheering crowd.

Though the T-shirt gun is also retiring, Merten promises other surprises for commencement.

“I’ve got evolving plans with respect to T-shirts,” Merten hinted. “There will be a role for T-shirts at commencement.”

Commencement takes place May 19 at 10 a.m. in the Patriot Center.