Joanne V. Creighton
Remark's at the 2003 Convocation
September 3, 2003
Welcome! It’s great to see you all here.
Some of you will remember that Convocation used to be in the evening, and then for the last several years it’s been in the late afternoon, and this year, for the first time, it’s right before lunch, and next year, who knows, it may be right before breakfast.
It’s no secret that we are experimenting, trying to find the perfect time that allows for just the right blend of formality and frivolity, ritual and carnival, ceremony and celebration.
While Convocation is steeped in history and tradition, it has, you might say, morphed over the years into something that would surely be unrecognizable to earlier generations. What, you might ask, is the purpose of the event?
Well, one purpose — which, it would be fair to say, has been rather dominant in recent years-- is to give vent to the high spirits of seniors who come capped and gowned as befits their superior status in the student hierarchy. Of course, their formal academic regalia also foreshadows their impending graduation — if, that is, all goes well this year. Congratulations Class of 2004 and good luck!
Another purpose of the event is to welcome all new members of the Mount Holyoke community: faculty, staff, and students, including most especially those bedecked in yellow, the Class of 2007. We are delighted to have you all with us.
But Convocation is about more than about the comings and goings of members of the community; it is, more centrally, about the sustaining presence and permanence of Mount Holyoke College itself. Each fall we gather together as a community to pay homage to that.
In this the beginning of the 167th academic year of this institution, I thought it would be well to remember how much we owe to our founder, Mary Lyon, who is not only literally with us — buried on campus grounds -- but also with us in spirit. While we mortals come and go, Mary lives on, a vital campus presence. And before you know it, Class of 2004, you will be winding laurels around her gravesite and singing "Bread and Roses" in recognition of her living spirit.
For no matter how much the College changes, it remains the same as well, with legacies and energies that endure, thanks in large part to Mary’s capacious vision.
The most obvious legacy of Mary Lyon is the place itself: this beautiful campus. She knew that the seminary of her dreams needed physical presence if it were to have permanence. When the cornerstone of Mount Holyoke was laid on October 3, 1836, Mary Lyon wrote memorably: "stone and bricks and mortar speak a language that vibrates in my very soul."
And although the original seminary building burned down after her death and, over the years, so did other campus buildings, nonetheless, the imposing physical presence of this College has endured and accreted over time and now, we have today the most beautiful campus in the nation, one speaks a language that vibrates in our souls as well, and one that we too continue to cherish and enhance for generations to come.
Indeed, under the just completed Plan for Mount Holyoke 2003, we have been in one of the most significant building periods in the College’s history. This year we can finally fully enjoy the fruits of those labors with no construction! Or, at least only the lingering final touches.
It was an incredibly busy summer, though, from a construction point of view, and I’d like to thank, in particular, the heroic work of Facilities Management. We are deeply grateful to all of you for being up to the challenge of tearing apart and putting back together in such splendid ways all the projects undertaken this summer. I’d also like to thank all the students, faculty, and staff who have cheerfully accommodated themselves through the considerable construction and disruption of the past few years.
This fall the splendidly renovated Shattuck and Cleveland complete the spectacular science complex. So too has Wilder Hall been beautifully renovated. And there’s are many other campus improvements as well, including not incidentally, the magnificent Blanchard Campus Center.
I can’t help but think that Mary Lyon would be pleased with this Center, because another legacy we owe to her is the strong centeredness of the institution. That centeredness comes not only from a sense of place but of purpose as well.
Mary urged her students to: "Do something . . . have a plan -- live for some purpose." And her students and the generations of students after them did amazing things, because Mary Lyon also embodied and instilled a sense of confidence and responsibility. "What ought to be done, can be done" she matter-of-factly insisted. "We have great power over ourselves," she said. "We may become almost what we will . . . Portray to yourself a character in mind, heart, education, and manners, such as you ought to be, and then aim to be such."
We fully expect you, Class of 2004, will heed Mary’s advice and join the long line of women before you who have gone out from here to lead purposeful and engaged lives.
So too does the College itself have a sense of confidence and energy, and again Mary’s words come to mind. She said, strikingly, "This institution is a great intellectual and moral machine and if you will jump in, you may ride very fast." Indeed, that’s exactly what we’re doing: jumping in and riding very fast. Last year we drew up together The Plan for 2010 designed to keep Mount Holyoke robust and strong and moving forward.
We have that confidence and energy because of yet another legacy of Mary Lyon, a sense of connection. We know that although our stay on this campus is transient, we are together propelled by a powerful educational mission that is larger than ourselves. And so, each year we come back renewed and regenerated, with high spirits and high hopes, as we reconnect to this inspirational College. And that supercharging connection is, in a nutshell, what Convocation is all about.
Before we close, I want to pay respects to another fine leader in the history of Mount Holyoke College, David Truman, president from 1969-1978, who died last week at age ninety. I know that he felt a loving connection to this College long after he left the campus. We are grateful to him for his steady hand and unswerving commitment to excellence and diversity during a tumultuous period at this College and in this country.
Finally, let me remind you that immediately after this event we will mark the remarkable rebirth of Blanchard and then, let the party begin at an all-campus picnic.
I look forward to seeing you over by Blanchard in a few minutes and to sharing with you the privilege of being here together during what I hope will be a most enjoyable and productive year and construction-free year.