Elizabeth Markovits, Assistant Professor of Politics
May 22, 2010
President Creighton, Members of the Board of Trustees, distinguished colleagues, honored guests, family, and friends—and most of all—the class of 2010: Good evening.
Joining in this long tradition of the baccalaureate speech, I am overwhelmed by the honor. To share in this moment, the night before your graduation from Mount Holyoke College, is a gift and I am deeply grateful for it.
Admittedly, when I received the invitation, I thought you all must have been confused. Just because I teach a course on rhetoric doesn’t mean I’m capable of delivering fine rhetoric myself. Worse, how to get beyond the clichés? I mean, tomorrow is technically the first day of the rest of your life. You can’t argue with that. And the world may well be your oyster. But I’ve promised many of you that I would do my best to avoid all that stuff. So, instead, on to the hard truths.
Tomorrow you are going to leave this place. For some of you, it comes not a moment too soon. For others, it’s still unthinkable. Either way, there’s a big pile of packed bags and uncertainty awaiting you. Your time at Mount Holyoke is over. And there is no place like Mount Holyoke College.
You soon-to-be-graduates probably know this—even better than I do. I feel a little like a sophomore talking to seniors today up here. I’ve only been here two years. When I first interviewed for my position, the College sent me all the same materials they sent you five years ago, when they first started wooing you here. Like many of you, I fell in love. Before I even arrived for the interview, I was excited for M&Cs. I was ready to declare my CST major. And once I got here, two years ago this very weekend, I fell in love with this place more than I thought possible. Why? How do you fall in love with an institution?
Because this is not just an institution. This place is a promise that there is something more to the world than profit and loss statements, timecards, grocery shopping, cleaning house, résumés, and 401K plans.
It’s a place where women from around the world, with these amazing, unique histories, arrive to discuss Plato, calculus, invasive ecology, Audre Lorde’s poetry, and the economies of sub-Saharan Africa.
It’s a place where we simultaneously celebrate our history as the first of the Seven Sisters, yet remain focused on the future of the world we all inhabit together.
It’s a place where we hike, run, throw, skate, canoe, and ride, knowing that we are not only strong in character, but also in body.
It’s a place where we paint, pray, sing, and dance, mindful that our lives have a depth that cannot be recounted in GPAs or MCAT scores.
It’s a place where we can sit and gawk at geese, wander aimlessly through the woods, lie in the grass and take in the gorgeous New England night sky, aware that the health and beauty of our natural surroundings is a critical element of the good life.
It’s a place where we can fall in and out of love. Where we develop friendships so meaningful to our sense of ourselves that we cannot remember how we lived without these people.
It’s a place where we cultivate our ability to care—to care for ourselves, to care for others, and to care for the world. We learn that these three things are intertwined and that we have so much work to do.
It’s a place where you have learned to, in Mary Lyon’s words: Go where no one else will go, do what no one else will do.
And here is that hard truth again: It’s a place you will leave tomorrow. You will never get it back. You will never live this exceptional Mount Holyoke life again in the same way. The world outside these gates is too demanding and too indifferent.
But it’s not too late. You have some time. And I have one piece of advice to take you through the next few hours. It comes to us from ancient Athens.
When Pericles gave his famous funeral oration, recounted for us by the historian Thucydides, he said: You must yourselves realize the power of Athens, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts.
What I’m telling you tonight is that you must yourselves realize the power of Mount Holyoke, and feed your eyes upon her from day to day, till love of her fills your hearts.
Your time here is short, I know. But imbibe that spirit of Mount Holyoke as deeply as you can tonight and tomorrow. Soak it up, drink it in, revel in it—even if you are so ready to get out of here that you packed up your room two weeks ago. Because this is our final gift to you as a graduate—that spirit of Mount Holyoke, this sense of having been part of an exceptional place. Stock up on it now, because it can help repel whatever junk the world tries to throw at you in the coming years. Your love of Mount Holyoke can sustain you when the so-called “real world” tries to convince you that things just don’t work that way, that you have to adjust your expectations or habits or choices to fit in. Use your love of this place to refuse that demand.
You will drive away from here tomorrow. You will move out and move on. But remember to nurture your memory of what Mount Holyoke means, for you will also be part of a diaspora, in the Greek sense of the word. It meant a scattering, a dispersal, like seeds, blown away from their pod. Take with you your love of Mount Holyoke when you leave tomorrow as part of this diaspora. Realize the power of the world you helped sustain inside these gates.
I said earlier there is no place like Mount Holyoke College. I want you to prove me wrong. To the Mount Holyoke College class of 2010, I ask that you make the world outside these gates more like the place inside these gates, letting a love of Mount Holyoke fill your hearts, until there are thousands of little Mount Holyokes out there, providing the rest of the world with the inspiration, the courage, and the strength of mind that you found here.