George Mason University finance major and volleyball player David Lucas, the 2014 Senior of the Year, has been so busy the past four years studying, competing, interning and serving as a teaching assistant in the School of Business that he has not taken full account of the impact he has made on the university.
His professors, mentors and coach certainly have kept track, though. Reading the raves in their recommendation letters has been a gratifying and humbling experience for the University Scholars Program standout.
Take the kudos from self-described "tough grader" James T. Bennett, an economics professor who has written few letters of recommendation for undergraduates during his more than four decades at the university because so few students ask, assuming that they fall short of his lofty standards.
Bennett is the only Mason professor in four years to issue Lucas a grade lower than an A. He saddled his prize pupil with a B+ last spring in the Political Economy of Nonprofit Institutions course—it was the highest grade awarded in the class.
"I have taught literally thousands of students and would rank him in the top five," Bennett wrote to the Senior of the Year selection committee. Among his other words to describe Lucas: inquisitive, imaginative, thoughtful, tenacious, hardworking, totally reliable, determined and motivated.
And those all appeared in just one of his four paragraphs.
"It's still a little bit mindboggling every time I read [the letter]," Lucas says. "He's always been positive toward me, but some of the things written in there are like, gee, is that really me that's being talked about? It's a blessing to have someone think that highly of you, especially someone I respect so much."
Even beyond the typical senior year reflecting, there are other reasons for Lucas to pause and ponder the past four years. Five years, really. During his senior year at Centennial High in Ellicott City, Md., it appeared as if he would not be able to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ric, and brother, Eric, to play volleyball at Mason. The Patriots' program had reached its roster cap and could not offer the young libero a spot on the team.
"I was a little disappointed," recalls Lucas, now a Mason co-captain whose father and brother rank first and second, respectively, on the school's all-time single season dig records list and whose mother, Linda, also played college volleyball. "It had taken me a while to decide where to go, but I really did want to continue the family tradition and be a part of Mason. And then it was gone."
Mason volleyball coach Fred Chao believed in Lucas and what he could offer not only to his program but to the university. Chao requested, and received, special dispensation from the athletic department to add Lucas to the team.
So not only did Lucas come to Fairfax after all, he is extending his stay. He will remain at Mason as a Mercatus Scholar in the Economics doctorate program.
The avid musician with a strong religious faith eventually plans to use his economics background to help developing communities transcend poverty. He and a sister, Bethany, a student in Mason's School of Nursing, will continue the Lucas family's campus tradition.
"I couldn't be happier with the way things have worked out," the senior of the year says. "I feel like I was meant to be here."