May 23, 2010
Mount Holyoke set me on the path of lifelong learning 63 years ago, and I have never ceased being grateful. The honour which my alma mater is bestowing on me today is the most special one I have ever received. If I have contributed to society as a teacher of social work, as a member of community organizations, and as a committed citizen, it is because of what I learned, experienced, and absorbed during my four years on this campus, living in a community of friends and scholars which gave clarity to my values and my life objectives.
Mount Holyoke provided me with mentors and role models. My principal mentor was Professor Everett “Red” Hawkins, who remained a friend long after graduation. My outstanding role model, throughout my life, was a very special woman whom I had the privilege of introducing when she spoke on this campus, Eleanor Roosevelt. Her picture is on my fridge to this day.
After my retirement from teaching at McGill University, I became involved in the School of Social Work’s Middle East Program in Civil Society and Peace Building, which brings together Arab and Israeli students. I have tutored three of them, a Bedouin, a Jordanian, and a Palestinian, and my bonds of continuing friendship with Amal, Samar, and Najwa are among the most rewarding I have ever known. This is also part of my debt to Mount Holyoke, because it was here that I first met women who were very different from myself and learned to relate to them in mutual respect and appreciation.
Mount Holyoke also instilled in me a profound sense of the value of a liberal arts education. We live today in an age of extraordinary technological change, and it is seductive to focus on that as what we need to learn—but it is through liberal arts that we become broadly educated and socially fulfilled, and fulfilling, human beings. It is through liberal arts that we develop our capacity to adapt as we meet new challenges and opportunities.
So I thank Mount Holyoke for this honour today—I am deeply touched and humbly proud—but especially for molding a girl from Brooklyn into a woman who has had something to give, modestly, to the world in which she has been privileged to live.