More Than Just Trinkets: Gifts Have A Story Behind Them

This small sculpture of a man, woman, and child was made in Costa Rica of soapstone. The sculpture was presented to Mason Provosts Peter N. Stearns and Yehuda Lukacs during a visit to Universidad La Paz in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica to discuss a possible partnership with George Mason University’s School of Conflict Resolution in December 2002. Universidad La Paz was created by the United Nations in 1983 to train practitioners in Peace Studies and enrolls about 125 students. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Diplomats and functionaries of institutions and nations have given and received gifts as part of official visits to other places for thousands of years. Traditionally the gift is seen as a way to commemorate the occasion and honor the visitor or host. Gifts are also meant to remind the recipient of, or share with him or her, a bit of the flavor and culture, of a country or institution. During the period between 1995 and 2012 George Mason University President, Dr. Alan G. Merten, University Provost, Dr. Peter N. Stearns, and other George Mason officials traveled as part of delegations to institutions abroad on university business. During these visits Mason administrators discussed partnership opportunities with officials of other universities and sometimes government functionaries, as well. By the same token, Mason administrators also received visits from delegations from other countries.

In December 2016 the University Libraries received from the Office of the President a collection of gifts given to Mason officials over the years while hosts or guests of officials representing universities from other nations.  We have installed an exhibit of some of the materials in our Reading Room. While to the casual observer these small tokens may seem to be inconsequential baubles or trinkets, the meaning behind many of them is far from insignificant.

Statue of Confucius. This twelve-inch replica of the twelve-foot statue of Confucius that stands outside the George Mason Concert Hall. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

In April 2008 George Mason University president Alan Merten accepted this small statue of Confucius on behalf of the university during a ceremony in front of the Concert Hall. It was presented to him by the president of the Confucian Academy of China, Dr. Tang Enjia. The statue is a replica of the twelve-foot bronze statue that was given to the university by the Confucian Academy of China. The Academy characterized the two-ton statue as a symbol of the two organizations’ “friendship and shared values”.

A year later the Confucius Institute at Mason opened. The Institute, which is not related to the Confucian Academy, is a partnership between the Confucius Institute in China, the Beijing Language and Culture University, and George Mason University. It offers non-credit educational programs about Chinese language and culture on the Fairfax Campus of George Mason University.

The US-China 1+2+1 Dual Degree Program, begun in 2001, is a multi-member partnership of American and Chinese universities participating under the auspices of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the China Center for International Educational Exchange (CCIEE). Nearly one hundred Chinese universities and twenty-five American universities participate in the program. This international education initiative brings American and Chinese universities together to offer dual degrees to Chinese undergraduate students.   Students participating in the  1+2+1 program spend their freshman year in a Chinese university, their sophomore and junior years at an American university, and their senior year at their original university in China. Upon completing all requirements, students receive a baccalaureate degree from each school. Graduates of the program complete a rigorous and demanding course of study at two universities, and gain a truly international education.

In 2004 George Mason University became one of the first American institutions to participate in the US-China 1+2+1 Dual Degree Program. The program has brought a select group of talented international students to campus, adding a global perspective to academic instruction and serving as a catalyst for other exchanges between U.S. and Chinese partner universities. This banner was given to university officials in January 2016 during a visit by Chinese 1+2+1 partners.

Sino-American CHEPD 1+2+1 Program Banner
China 1+2+1 is a dual degree program between George Mason and several Chinese Universities. George Mason partners with 25 universities across China and recruits students from these universities. These students apply to Mason, study for two years at their home university and then complete two years at Mason. They receive two degrees, one from George Mason University, and one from their home university. This item was given to Mason administers by a delegation of Chinese university administrators in January 2016. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Catherine Palace Crystal Paperweight. This paperweight has been laser-etched in Cyrillic text and an image of the Catherine Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. The Palace was home to many members of Russian royalty, most notably Peter the Great, whose wife it is named for. This item was gifted to Mason administrators by representatives from St. Petersburg State University. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

George Mason University entered into unsuccessful talks with St. Petersburg State University in the Russian Federation in an attempt to establish a partnership to offer a dual degree program in the late 1990s. This crystal paperweight was one of several gifts given to Mason officials during their visit to St Petersburg.

Plaque Featuring the Seal of Al-Quds University. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for the City of Jerusalem. Al-Quds University is a Palestinian university founded in 1984. With campuses in Abu Dis, Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah, Beit Hanina and Ramallah, Al Quds enrolls over 13,000 students. This item was gifted to Mason administrators during a visit to the Al-Quds University in the early 2000s. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

George Mason investigated the possibility of creating an academic partnership with Haifa University in Israel and Al-Kuds University in Jerusalem during the early 2000s. The potential partnership had the secondary aim of improving Israeli-Palestinian relations. This item was a gift from officials at Al Kuds University.

Golden Tower: Ras Al Khaimah. This is a representation of defensive towers the soldiers of the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) used to monitor the waters of the Persian Gulf for enemy attackers, dating back to the 17th Century. This item was given to George Mason University president Alan Merten by representatives of RAK during his 2006 visit to the Emirate. Special Collections Research Center, George Mason University Libraries.

Mason opened its fourth campus in fall 2006 in Ras-Al-Khaimah (RAK) in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While the faculty, staff, and curriculum were overseen by George Mason University, Mason had to partner with outside sources for funding and other administrative activities. Amid serious disagreements with their partners in the enterprise in subsequent years. Mason concluded that the partnership would not be conducive to academic quality and might affect Mason’s accreditation at home. Mason withdrew from the partnership and closed the campus in 2009.

Hibiscus Ceramic Bowl. The State University of New York (SUNY), Korea was established in 2012 and is part of the Incheon Global Campus project. The Incheon Global campus also houses George Mason University, Korea; Ghent University, Global Campus; and the University of Utah, Asia Campus. This item is decorated with an image of the Korean national flower, the Mugunghwa, or Hibiscus and was a gift from administrators of SUNY, Korea. Special Collections Research Center. George Mason University Libraries.

George Mason University opened its new international campus in Songdo, South Korea In March 2014. This item was a gift to Mason officials from one of its neighbors in Songdo, the State University of New York in Korea.

Collections come in all shapes, sizes, and, in this case, types. At first glance, one might think that the items in this collection are of little research or historical value. But behind each object there is a story. It might be that the gift was simply a courtesy. It might have been given to welcome a new partner. It might have served to express gratitude. Whatever the intent may have been, items of this type have a way of freezing a moment in time so that others may reflect on it.

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