Originally published on January 6, 2021
Cassidy Whitehurst didn’t know if or how life would ever get better. The George Mason University senior from Chesapeake, Virginia, said she grew up with parents who were addicted to drugs and alcohol, and from fourth to eighth grade, she was living in hotels and cars.
“I was doing really bad in school and wasn’t involved,” Whitehurst said. “I kind of gave up because my homelife was so stressful.”
But a moment of introspection inspired her to take control of the future.
“I moved in with my aunt in seventh grade, and around that time I started realizing that I didn’t want to live this lifestyle anymore,” the government and international politics major said. “It gave me a lot of hope thinking about the future and how I could change the situation.”
It also inspired her to want to go to college and become a lawyer.
“[In middle school] I saw my mom go to jail when she really just needed help,” said Whitehurst, who added that her parents have since been doing better. “I thought she was treated wrong and think addiction is treated wrong. That sparked me to be interested in criminal justice reform.”
Whitehurst said she decided to go to Mason after a campus tour that filled her with excitement for the campus experience. Now that she’s here, she’s been making the most of her education in classes, as the Speaker of the Student Senate, as a Mason Ambassador giving tours to prospective students, and as a Virtual Learning Community mentor.
“I love being involved with Student Government because I get to help people within the George Mason community,” Whitehurst said, adding that she also serves on the Student Advisory Committee for the State Council for Higher Education for Virginia.
“What impresses me most about Cassidy is her ability to be calm and confident in difficult and complex situations, which happen regularly in Student Senate,” said Student Government Advisor Ben Endres. “She is a natural leader and well respected by her peers as well as the professional staff.”
She also works hard to ensure her peers feel heard and accepted, Endres said, and she seeks opportunities for her own personal development.
Before she graduates this spring, Whitehurst will be an undergraduate research assistant working with Schar School professors Robert McGrath and Lucas Núñez to create a database of legislation passed in the Virginia General Assembly. The work is for the ongoing Almanac of Virginia Politics, a massive tool that collects raw data regarding the Commonwealth’s legislative history.
The opportunities Mason has provided, along with the friends Whitehurst has made along the way, have been her favorite parts of her college experience, she said.
Professors like Laura Walker and Sharrell Hassell-Goodman have also been influential, Whitehurst said, citing their engaging teaching styles and how they encourage productive dialogue among students.
“Cassidy is humble, yet confident and extremely capable and talented,” Hassell-Goodman said. “I can’t wait to see what she decides to pursue in the future.”
Did you know?: In 2020, 114 Schar School undergraduates worked on faculty-supervised research projects, including the Almanac of Virginia Politics, and as Undergraduate Teaching Assistants, Global Politics Fellows and Nonprofit Fellows.