May 23, 2010
I have to admit that when I set out to write a speech, I googled “great commencement speeches” and read speech after speech by students who are far more accomplished, funny, witty, and confident than I will ever be. They all talked about spreading our wings and going off into the unknown, taking the road less traveled, and though I appreciated the underlying sentiments, I vowed not to throw eternally misquoted and misunderstood poetry at you. For after all, we are MoHos, and we need very little to differentiate ourselves from thousands of other proud seniors commencing out of college this weekend, other than the fact that we have shared experiences in the parallel universe that is Mount Holyoke.
Beautiful Mount Holyoke College, the oldest women’s college in the country. (I’m sorry Smith. We were there first.) MHC, where trustees frequently and passionately defend our right to have milk and cookies every weeknight at 9:30 pm. MoHo, where people believe you can create what you believe in and do everything in their power to help you. MoHome, where you know you will always belong and can always return, no matter how excited you may be to be commencing out into the world today. Mount Holyoke, which is not the real world, because it dares to be better. Mount Holyoke, where Everything is a Social Construct. Mount Holyoke, where it is okay (and not at all creepy) to begin and end your college career by paying homage to a woman who is responsible for our 16-hour workday and continues to inspire women educators today.
It is a special place, precisely because outside these gates, people will have no idea what on earth I’m talking about. Mount Holyoke--this institution, education, and experience we have all shared--binds us all together, because it is so difficult to explain what it means to be here. To some, today represents a long awaited transition into the “real world”--one which has men in it, and maybe even a CVS or a supermarket. To others, it’s a sad parting from a place they feel welcomed and call home. Being the incredible, diverse group of women we are, we’re all headed down completely different paths after today, but we’re taking with us similar concerns. Will I get a job this summer? Will I ever get a job? Will I get into graduate school? Will I have to compromise the lofty ideals Mount Holyoke allowed me to have with the demands of an unfair world? Someone told me that graduating in 2010 is like graduating in 1929 and hoping to find a job. I disagree. In 1929, women had only recently gained the right to vote in the United States. In 2008, more women voted than men. In 1929, many of the countries represented here had not yet gained independence from colonial regimes. Our class of 2010 represents women from more than 70 countries. No, 2010 is not like 1929. It offers us so much more, precisely because institutions such as ours dare to question what is right and are brave enough to suggest change.
There’s still much to be done in the world, and I know I feel overwhelmed by the idea of finding a job, living in a box, and solving world hunger. I’m sure we all felt that way during long conversations with friends, lamenting over how we haven’t finished our paper, haven’t started our reading, can’t wait to graduate and can’t believe that girl in politics class spent the break delivering babies in China while all I did was work at my minimum wage job. Mount Holyoke is a parallel reality, where constantly challenging yourself to do more, more, more is what you’re supposed to do and not at all Type A behavior. Here at Mount Holyoke, we spend years working hard on what we are passionate about, but we also know how to spend time letting this college take care of us, with milk and cookies and No Study Zones and Mountain Day. That is exactly why I think we’re all going to be okay. We’ll take good care of the world that we’re commencing into, because we know how much there is to do, and we are willing to try, whether this means working ourselves to the bone, or letting the world cradle us and heal us into being whole again. Perhaps we will never again be in a place where everything is geared towards our learning, but from having had that privilege, we have acquired the ability to know what we need, and what we need to give back.
However beloved our college is, and however proud we all are on this occasion though, I am reluctant to suggest what I am expected to suggest--that we, the class of 2010, as graduates of a wonderful liberal arts college, are somehow “the cream” of society. It is true that our education, our professors, our resources and our own hard work have qualified us to walk out proudly today, throw our funny hats in the air, and say goodbye to the booming metropolis of South Hadley, Massachusetts. The only reason I am reluctant to do so is because we are so immensely privileged. We form a tiny percentage of individuals who ever achieve a college degree, and an even tinier percentage of women who are able to do so. After we have enjoyed our picnic, sung the alma mater, and taken many Facebook worthy pictures, we will graduate into this tiny minority, but we will also be equipped to create a world where experiences such as ours are for once, not uncommon at all.
I believe this is where I insert the obligatory Emily Dickinson quote, because if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be MoHo enough. “Forever is composed of nows.” We all thought this would last forever, and today it is over, but we will always have years of precious Moho “nows” to treasure, and hopefully a forever more of them to create.
Congratulations, class of 2010. We did it!!