KC Haydon, assistant professor of psychology and education
Good evening! Class of 2014, I am deeply honored to have been invited to share this moment with you – and to speak before distinguished colleagues, President Pasquerella, members of the Board of Trustees, and before your families who have traveled so far to be with you at this turning point in your lives. Class of 2014, I am honored to speak to you on this occasion for many reasons, but, perhaps most of all, because I know exactly how you feel.
It was not so long ago that I sat where you sit now, poised on the edge of a future that seemed only half sure in the short-run and completely unknown in the long run. It was not so long ago that I sat on the floor of a newly-bare dorm room in Pearsons, with my belongings haphazardly stuffed into boxes and my friends gathered together one last time. And I don’t mean garden-variety friends. Oh no! Mount Holyoke friends are not the garden-variety kind. You know what I mean. I mean my people – my PEOPLE, whose dream jobs I would later toast, at whose weddings I would dance barefoot, whose children are now my nieces and nephews, with whom I will one day vie for shotgun when it’s our turn to ride in the antique cars. But we didn’t know any of that then. We didn’t know what would become of us. Of course we didn’t. That night, I sat with my people as you will sit with yours tonight, all of us slack-jawed and stunned to find ourselves in our last night here, none of us sure what was supposed to happen next.
Tonight, I’m supposed to offer you a charge for the future, to share some piece of guiding wisdom. But because I am a teacher in my bones, I must first offer you a lesson. So here it is:
Of all the things that shape the course of our lives and our potential as humans, none is as ubiquitous, powerful, or transformative as the relationships we build along the way. If you stop by my office – and yes, you’re all still welcome in office hours anytime – I’ll recite the latest research to support this claim. I’ll tell you how close relationships direct gene expression and shape neural pathways at each point in the lifespan, how people in happy long-term partnerships live longer, get sick less often, and heal faster than their counterparts, how close relationships affect economics, education, global politics, you name it. All of this research documents the incredible power of relationships to direct our fate and change us on every level.
This maxim of modern developmental science was foreshadowed by Francois Mauriac, a French writer who won the 1952 Nobel Prize in literature. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, We are molded and remolded by those we have loved and, though the love may pass, we are nevertheless their work.
My dears, during your time here, you have molded and remolded yourselves and each other into the brilliant forces of nature you are today, with stronger voices, clearer ideals, and more focused purpose than you had when you arrived. You have molded Mount Holyoke itself. Because of your presence—because of your work, your brilliance, your courage—Mount Holyoke is more vibrant, more engaged, and even more honest than before you arrived. For that, we are deeply grateful.
But how does this molding happen? I’m a scientist, so I like to figure out how things work (because that’s where the action is, that’s the good stuff). The molding happens best when you are brave enough to influence others as benevolently as you can and accept their influence in return. The molding – that wonderful power of transformation by which we all become who we are— happens best when you invest yourself fully in what matters most to you and share the benefits with everyone you can.
This is my charge to you, Class of 2014. I charge you with the responsibility and privilege of investing yourselves fully. In case this sounds like an empty platitude, let me spell it out for you. Investing yourself fully means working hard at things that align with your values and vision. It means doing the work when your courage wavers and your energy flags. It means not letting yourself get bogged down in perfectionism or self-doubt. It means being who you are – not who someone else wants you to be, but who you are, the person you want be. It means never doubting that you’ve earned your seat at the table and that your voice matters. It means accepting all the help you can get. It means bringing the full force of your intellect, compassion, and energy to bear on the challenge at hand.
You may not yet know its form, you may not know where or how or when or by what means, but one day soon you will find yourself in a position to do something that really matters. And when you do, I call upon you to give it everything you’ve got.
And you won’t be alone. No. When it comes to relationships – the bedrock of human development – nobody does it better than Mount Holyoke. Nobody. See, the thing about Mount Holyoke is it gets in your bones. Mount Holyoke gets into your mind, sure – that’s the gateway drug. But then it gets into your heart and soul and bones, right to the core of who you are. And because of that, because all of this is part of who you are now, you get to take it with you when you leave.
Mount Holyoke, the relationships you built here, and the ways they have molded you – these are resources that you carry will with you the rest of your days, a power that you may wield whenever you need it. This is your inheritance, bequeathed to you by those who have come before you, but somehow constructed by your own hands. You own it now because you invested yourselves fully while you were here. And I promise that you will reap the benefits of that investment for the rest of your lives.
Today, you participated in my favorite of all Mount Holyoke traditions, the Laurel Parade. Today, you gathered to shoulder the leafy vines of the laurel chain and raise it collectively in the name of progress that cannot be won by any of us alone. A perfect metaphor, if ever there was one, for what Mount Holyoke is all about. Today you passed through ranks of your alumnae elders heralding your arrival among us and lighting your path with faces made increasingly beautiful by wisdom and experience. Did it hit you, as you rounded the bend between Porter and Safford, that (to borrow the phrase) a vision has been realized in each of you? A vision that none of us saw coming alone, certainly not Mary Lyon, because none of us could have imagined it without each other. Did you feel how deeply interconnected we are in this place? Did you see proof in our faces that those connections will sustain you for the long haul? I promise they will.
Tonight after boats have sheltered, after paper lanterns and lakeside voices are extinguished, after families bid goodnight, you will do what Mohos do best. You will sit with your people. You’ll laugh, and cry a little, and laugh some more. Always end with the laughing. And when you do, I hope you will take a good look at each other’s faces. I hope you will marvel at what remarkable people you have become in each other’s presence. I know I do every day. Together you are capable of great things. And you’ve only just begun.
Class of 2014, I know I speak for all of us when I say that it has been a great privilege and honor to be part of your time here. We are so proud of you, and we can’t wait to see what happens next.