May 23, 2010
I am deeply honored by this degree and so glad to join the awesome class of 2010 as a bona fide MoHo graduate. In fact, I could now be called: JoJo MoHo.
Like all of you, I am anticipating, with bittersweet emotions, leaving this extraordinary place, not only because we will miss it, but also because that dreaded, "What are you going to do next?" question is hanging over our heads and has been asked more times than we would like to recall, right?
Some of you can answer that question brightly with a clear next step: a distinguished graduate school, a wonderful job, a desirable career and a plan of action to get there. Good for you. It keeps the conversation upbeat and positive. But others of us shift our feet and imperceptibly cringe when asked That Question because we don’t really have a good answer to That Question right now.
But all I can say in defense of us, and of our clueless approach, and also in consolation, is that none of us really knows for sure what next is in store for us.
Take my own life, for example. I can assure you I never wanted to be a college president when I grew up. Nor did I ever envision that I would metamorphose into a building. But here I am: a college president in the shape of a residence hall. How did this happen to me?
The trail from that day, decades ago--when I basked in the sun at my own undergraduate commencement--to today wasn’t a straight line. It was a circuitous and unplanned and organic route with surprising interventions and changes of direction along the way. Enormous changes at the last minute, as Grace Paley noted, can and do happen.
But, with the benefit of hindsight, I can say with certainty that my liberal arts education was absolutely fundamental to everything that followed. So much so, that I urge you to take heart in knowing that, ineffably, your fine Mount Holyoke liberal arts education is doing its magic and helping to prepare you for whatever you may encounter in the years ahead.
A liberal arts education, at its best, is liberating: it opens one up to a more enriched life of the mind. An awakened mind is an asset for most jobs--one hopes. Even more importantly, it is also likely to give personal sustenance, to make one a better companion to the self, for "the soul selects her own society, then shuts the door," says Emily Dickinson. And it is certainly true, as Lily Tomlin, has added, "We’re all in this alone." But it is paradoxically true, that we are all in this together, and your liberal arts education gives you an acute sense of that--of the breadth and depth of human culture, knowledge and history and our shared responsibility for the future. In fact, paradox is the essence of your liberal arts education, which is every bit as nonutilitarian and useful as we have been telling you.
So all you seniors (and your parents) who may be obsessing on what’s in store for you after Mount Holyoke, relax! Take comfort in the fact that Mount Holyoke, almost without your realizing it, has been honing in you the analytical skills and the mental agility, the knowledge and the discrimination, the reflective habit and the ethical perspectives fundamental to a useful and fulfilling life.
Congratulations for all you have achieved so far. I’m deeply honored to graduate with you. With our coveted Mount Holyoke degrees in hand, we will go out together, hand-in-hand, knowing that even when we don’t quite believe it, we Mount Holyoke women are well prepared and ready for Whatever!
My very best wishes to you all.