By Sara Richards '07
May 27, 2007
Good morning ladies and gentlemen, the class of 2007.
In the year 1907, Oklahoma became the forty-sixth state in the Union. There was a financial crisis on Wall Street, and the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. In 1907, Mount Holyoke College graduated 166 women. Yet 100 years ago, there were no world wars. There was no Manhattan Project. No Rosie the Riveter. No Joseph McCarthy, no Watergate, no Gloria Steinem, no Martin Luther King, no Title IX, no September 11, and no female presidential candidate.
Those women who sat where you are sitting today couldn't vote. They had no political representation in Congress. Professional opportunities were limited. Life after Mount Holyoke looked quite different in 1907. Yet even with such momentous, historic events that separate us from those women today, there is something, even if wholly intangible, that links us to those 166 women 100 long years ago. Perhaps it's the shared experience of higher education. One can imagine the senior class of 1907, excitedly, with a hint of nerves, entering their commencement ceremony. Perhaps some women had exciting, detailed plans for their post-Mount Holyoke lives. They would go on to further study or teach, maybe even some at Mount Holyoke. But perhaps there were women sitting in that commencement crowd who had absolutely no idea what to do after college. With significantly fewer options than are open to us today, there must have been some hand wringing. The dreaded questions of postcollege life are difficult and uncertain, no matter the time. But remember that uncertainty is not always a hindrance. Many of those 166 women that came before us chose to view their uncertainty as opportunity for discovery and new experiences.
But perhaps we feel linked to these women because of a timeless understanding of being female. Educating women at the beginning of the century wasn't a top priority for many, and those 166 women chose the rockier, more radical path. They weren't guaranteed equal opportunities after graduation, even with a first-rate education. But they on went in spite of that. In our own lives, we still live with discrimination and antiquated social constructs, forcing us to remember every day how far we've come, but how far we still have to go.
But just maybe this connection to past Mount Holyoke women has something to do with Mount Holyoke itself. True, the College is made up of grass, buildings, and cement, but sometimes it seems that the College has a life of its own, even without a single being present. And this feeling comes from the community here. The history created. The relationships formed. To be a student at Mount Holyoke is to be a small part of its history, and though it has changed us in our four years here, we hope to leave it a little different when we leave.
The events that shape our time shape us as well, yet it seems important to remember that there are some things that will hopefully remain timeless at Mount Holyoke. The rigorous intellectual demand coupled with warm encouragement. The belief that women can and should make a difference in the world. That we are all unique and have a worthy perspective. That we are open and accepting, as we have known too much prejudice because of our sex alone.
We leave Mount Holyoke tomorrow to begin our own new stories and histories. These buildings will come and go. Women will come in and out of this amphitheater, but the community built here, the history, will remain. And wherever you are in the world, you will still hold a place in this community. My hope is that, in the year 2107, our great-great-granddaughters will sit in this very same amphitheater, wondering what will be. And though the world will be much different then, I hope Mount Holyoke will be much the same for them. And if so, then they will have some sense of us, some sense of our time, and some sense of what this place meant to us 100 long years ago.
Thank you and congratulations.
By Sarah Richards