Mary Lyon’s Legacy, the Power of Peace, and the Love of Change: Reflections by Gabriele Wittig Davis

Dear Alumnae and Current Students, Families,and Friends, 
 
As this season has brought many traditional celebrations to Germany and other parts of the world and we are now entering 2014, I would like to wish you all the very best that I can imagine for the New Year: Peace—Frieden—Shalom—Salam. That, in fact, is the title of the song that, in my mind, expresses not only the essence of the spirit of the season but, moreover, that which all humanity is truly yearning for when, instead, it reaches for power and wealth and control. Without peace, there is no learning, no stability; ultimately, no progress of any kind in our societies. We do not need social Darwinisms: no Clausewitz either on the military or the economic ‘fronts,’ nor the younger Helmuth Moltke Sr.’s mistaken belief in war as an existential force necessary to drive human competition and progress, a conviction he himself retracted in his old age when he understood what modern warfare would entail. 
 
All among us, whether they hold one of Lessing’s three rings and belong to Islam, Judaism, or Christianity; or whether they adhere to any other form of institutionalized or non-institutionalized spirituality; or whether they simply extend care and compassion for their fellow beings, all are part of that force of peace—Friede—Schalom—Salam. And “Peace, Frieden, Shalom, Salam,” the song says, “fängt bei uns selber an”*; only then will it be “ein Traum der wahr werden kann.” So if “peace [truly] starts out with our own selves,” our own egos, then it turns from an idealistic illusion into an active vision of truth that needs our complete engagement, mind, body, heart, and soul: “a dream that can become true, that can be realized.” Mary Lyon had such a dream and worked incessantly for it, as her contemporaries report. She realized it, and we have to carry on her torch. 
 
It is the second stanza of the song that proclaims the message with which I would like to leave you all for 2014 and beyond:

“Only when the power of love prevails
over the love of power,
then peace will be on earth […]”
 
It is an unpopular message these days and deemed “unrealistic” in a globalized world. I do not see it this way at all. “Love” here is not a wishy-washy feeling but a strength arising from and embracing all human faculties, intellect, spirit, heart, and senses, and requiring active commitment. Time and again, studies have proved that those businesses profit the most in the long run who treat their personnel with dignity and trust, and allow them to exercise their initiative and creativity. Even most recently, one of our graduates turned from intern to employee because she was not just a yeah-sayer but dared propose her own well-reasoned arguments for 
improved client communication—within an intimidatingly specialized, highly structured financial “empire.”

So the power of the liberal arts, and thereby the power of full humanity, has consistently prevailed over training alone, “Bildung” over “Ausbildung,” because it really does instil thinking “out of the box” and enables people to remain flexible when all the prognoses claim that young people will have to change professions 7-11 times during their lives. However, anybody who knows me will also attest to the fact that “Bildung” and “Ausbildung” have to go hand in glove, and that, long before we talked about C2C institutionally, we simply adhered to Mary Lyon’s goals departmentally and therefore established an “old girls network” to echo the (in)famous dictum of the “boys,” our wonderfully loyal German Studies alumnae network. Our alumnae have done well in any imaginable field because of their broad liberal arts education which includes foreign-language study, so often undervalued in this country, e.g., its role in leading to a profounder understanding of one’s own culture in this age of globalization.  
 
Best of all for all of us, thanks to the powers of neuro-science and functional imaging in particular, second-language learning, also often called “bilingualism” (I still used the term differently…) actually makes our brains more flexible for all learning forever—at school and at work! This holds true even if we start learning a language as a young adult. And young adults can reach “functional proficiency” in a language in 13-18 months, i.e., faster than young children; but young children can learn ‘native’ pronunciation more easily and quickly.
 
Therefore it is not just a sentimental message, a “Gefühlsduselei,” just as Mary Lyon’s call for educating “mothers” aimed at a revolutionary change: to educate young women, foster self-confidence, and make them independent while retaining their sense of commitment toward the community and their fellow human beings. In other words, Mount Holyoke women have received a strong liberal arts education and, at the same time, been dedicated to making diverse professional use of it “in the world.” This is the legacy of Mary Lyon, Virginia Apgar (newborn score), Dorothy Hansine Andersen (cystic fibrosis test), Ella Grasso (first woman governor), Jean E. Sammet (woman pioneer in computer science), Frances Perkins (social security), Minerva Chapman (impressionist artist), Susan Lori Parks, (dramatist, double major in German studies and English), and Helen Sanders Allen, ‘1912, Alumnae Association Medal of Honor winner for her contributions to the MHC Association, whose 1909 yearbook was graciously donated to me by her friend, Kathy (Mrs. Jeff) Demarinis of Winchester, Massachusetts** holds true now as ever, “"Go where no one else will go. Do what no one else will do." Where no one else will go, and what no one else will do today, however, may very well prove to be what the song says:
[To grant] the desire for peace […] import again.
 
During all my years as chair of German Studies and European Studies, I have striven to educate young women who value themselves and also retain a sense of commitment to the complex and diverse Mount Holyoke community, just as this same complex and diverse community remains committed to them. It is from such celebration of a multifaceted sense of commitment to the diversity of humankind that the new desire for peace has to spring forth. Only then will we succeed in establishing the basis for all productive exchange of knowledge, commerce, cultural and social progress: Peace—Frieden—Schalom—Salam.
 
And this, again, is my heartfelt wish both as the outgoing chair of the Department of German Studies after all these years and looking forward to the New Year 2014, which I would like to ring in together with the Hamburger and their harbour fireworks.
________________________________________________________________
*
The full lyrics, in German and English, can be found here.
**
This wonderful scrapbook enabled me to offer, in fall 2011, the bilingual research seminar in German, European, and Gender studies, „Uncommon Women“ Discover the World: Archival Research Come to Life. Several of the students then presented their digital projects, together with me who could include research by graduated seniors who had granted permission, in fall 2012 during the college’s 175th anniversary celebrations. The MHC Archives generously digitized the scrapbook item by item to preserve the original yet allow my students complete access. In gratitude, I bequeathed the srcap-book to the MHC Archives in my turn.

Peace Card Created by Children