May 27, 2007
Wendy Kopp, Mount Holyoke is pleased to honor you for your activism on behalf of public education in the United States.
Your efforts to build Teach for America began in college with nothing but passion and an idea. You believed then, as you do now, that all children deserve an excellent education, regardless of where they are born. To this end, in your undergraduate thesis you proposed a service corps for teachers. Undaunted by your professor's skepticism, you sensed that many of your peers would in fact be drawn to an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to society. Fresh out of college, you were fueled only by your hope and your vision; you were to observe later that your greatest personal asset was your naiveté. Nonetheless, you raised enough funds to get your project off the ground and send 500 men and women to teach in low-income communities in your first year. Over the last decade and a half, Teach for America has grown in scope and scale, now serving 25 urban and rural regions with 4,400 corps members reaching some 375,000 students.
While the numbers are impressive, they belie the challenges you have surmounted along the way. Your seed funding ran out, and Teach for America drew pointed criticism from some in the education community. Still you pressed on, securing new revenue sources, scaling back administration, and advocating passionately for the merits of your organization. You proved yourself a bold entrepreneur and a savvy leader. While much work remains to be done to address the pernicious inequalities that plague our nation's schools, we commend you for dedicating your life's work to making a difference where it is most needed.
Wendy Kopp, you inspire us to engage with our communities, think big, and, in the words of Mary Lyon, "accomplish great things." It is a privilege to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
Address - Audio (QuickTime: 15.9 MB, Time: 23 minutes)
By Wendy Kopp
Commencement Address - Text
By Wendy Kopp