Convocation Message: “Believe in Yourself”

First-years are enthusiastic about Michelle Brooks-Thompson '06 and their first convocation.

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Convocation 2013 marked both the start of the academic year and the launch of a new way of describing the Mount Holyoke experience—never fear / change. Students were urged to be present, be open, to embrace both opportunities to lead and “the adventure of confusion,” and—perhaps most powerfully, to believe in themselves.

There was plenty of energy in the crowd of students dressed in class-color costumes ranging from the purple boas of Frances Perkins Scholars to the red porkpie hats and matching crimson mustaches sported by some seniors.

Before Michelle Brooks-Thompson ’06, a contestant on last year’s NBC sing-off The Voice, loosed her gale-force voice on “I Believe I Can Fly,” she told students, “If you believe it, you can do it. All it takes is that you believe in yourself.”

President Lynn Pasquerella took up the theme in her remarks about the first day of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary in 1837, her own first day on campus as a transfer student in 1978, and today, when the College takes the first step toward its next 175 years. “We want you to step toward what is difficult. We want you to face the future with energy, openness, and grit,” Pasquerella said. “Flip the switch of opportunity, solidarity, and leadership.”

Sonya Stephens, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, quoted writer George Saunders when she told the crowd “not to be afraid to be confused; try to remain permanently confused; anything is possible. Stay open forever, so open that it hurts; then open up some more, until the day you die.”

Luigi Solla, academic advisor to the first-year class, reminded students that although “time flies, you are the pilot” and urged them to “be present enough to appreciate what’s happening” when an ordinary moment becomes unexpectedly profound. Speaking of the remote control on an imaginary time machine, Solla suggested that students “press ‘rewind’ only when necessary to make good decisions in the present” and to use fast-forward sparingly. “Press ‘play’ and allow yourself to live in the now,” he advised.

“Women can and should make a difference in the world,” said Student Government Association President Vanessa Keverenge ’14, who asked students to start by getting involved on campus. “My hope is that our special purpose will include working to improve our home, and that we apply ourselves to this purpose with the same commitment that produces great strides elsewhere in the world.”

Music was provided by the Glee Club, directed by Lindsay S. Pope ’07, and by the MHC West African Music Ensemble. Jennifer Sanborn, interim dean of religious and spiritual life, closed the event by asking the audience to consider what it means to be the soul of a community such as MHC.

Community was still on class of 2017 member Grace Chang’s mind at the post-convocation campus picnic. She said, “It’s great to feel part of the community on my first day. When I arrived, I didn’t see Mount Holyoke as my home. But after convocation, I’m so excited to spend four years here.”