Campaign Celebration Remarks: May 8, 2004

Saturday, May 8, 2004 - 12:00

Thank you all for joining us this weekend. Special thanks to Professor Vanessa James who has transformed Chapin Auditorium into an enchanted garden of earthly delights.

It's great to see you all here in this elegant setting. I hope you have enjoyed yourselves today and that you have seen for yourselves how the College has been transformed as well, how it's been strengthened and renewed through our combined effort these past six years.

This is a celebration of us, of the way we came together so effectively around common goals and purposes. But more, this is a celebration of Mount Holyoke College, which compels our allegiance and love and support. "Mount Holyoke, we pay thee devotion." "Tell us that you love the College, that's the great bond between us," entreated the Class of 1900 in its time capsule to the Class of 2000.

They didn't need to worry. That loving "bond" remains. Why is it? What is it? Certainly we know the magic and power of this stunning campus. "Stone and bricks and mortar speak a language that vibrates in my very soul" wrote Mary Lyon, and these particular stones and brick and mortar, accreted over time and somewhat eclectic in style, are yet so pleasingly harmonious, so alluring, and so Mount Holyoke. This place is the College, and the College is this place. We know the mesmerizing appeal of it: getting prospectives on the campus is key to turning them into our students. Those of us who live and work and study here know that a palpable sense of place infuses our experience every day. For those of you who are no longer here, I know this campus has etched an indelible place in your hearts and minds.

We can all take great pride that we made the most beautiful campus in the nation even more beautiful and functional during this Campaign. I can't imagine more successful buildings than the ones we have restored and expanded -- Pratt, the art building, the science center and Blanchard (I think of them as my children, each more wonderful than the next). Each is at once classic and with it, a felicitous blend of historic restoration and new construction. Each has been "changed, changed utterly," to use Yeats's language, with state-of-the-art classrooms, laboratories, offices, and gathering spaces. Each opens up beautifully to the surrounding landscape, bringing light, transparency, and vitality, and creating a more energized and visible sense of community.

Indeed, each of these buildings adds to that memorable sense of place that is Mount Holyoke College, but place is only part of the presence and essence of this institution. Place instantiates an inspirational and enduring educational idea that took form 167 years ago and continues with force and resonance today. Mary Lyon named the College after the nearby famous mountain, because she wanted her seminary to be monumental, enduring, and famous like the mountain. But, of course, the fame of the mountain has long been eclipsed by that of the College. It is the College that now brings distinction to this region. It is the College that is known throughout the world. Indeed, it is the College, to borrow again a phrase from Yeats, that is a "monument of unaging intellect."

It is worth noting that this proud College endures and prevails in spite of the considerable odds against it. Who would have thought that an impoverished, female educator from Western Massachusetts would find the means to implement such a big and enduring idea? And who would think that idea continues to have such resonance today, even when higher education is radically changed and the College is up against all the dominant trends towards large, public, urban, coed, professional education as well as up against the competition of richer, better endowed institutions. Yet surviving and thriving, the College is stronger than ever. Like our fearless founder, Mary Lyon, we pride ourselves on being savvier and smarter, leaner and not meaner, and the big idea of Mount Holyoke continues to inspire and compel our best effort.

And that big idea is, simply stated, our mission, our commitment to "educating a diverse residential community of women at the highest level of academic excellence and to fostering the alliance of liberal arts education with purposeful engagement in the world."

That mission continues to say it all (and it warms my English professor soul that we can elegantly encapsulate its essence in one sentence).

To be sure, the College has evolved and changed over time in its understanding of this mission. For example, Mount Holyoke had from the beginning a global mission, receiving and sending students around the world. But now, instead of educating missionaries, we are developing global citizens and leaders who, sometimes with missionary zeal, are determined to make a positive difference in the world. In embracing our identity as a "diverse, residential community" made up of women from across the country and around the world, our goal, harkening back to the idealism of our founding, is to enhance the critical and moral education of students and to advance our collective commitment to social justice.

Moreover, we are, like Mary Lyon, unabashed advocates for women's education worldwide, the great unfinished agenda of the 19th, 20th, and now the 21st century. While Mount Holyoke is a venerable 167 years old, it is worth noting what a short span of time that is really when measured against the reaches of human history or even of educational history, and how recently women have been accorded educational opportunities. It's only in the last 30 years or so, that women have been welcomed by the male-dominated establishment of higher education. The continuing gender imbalance of power and influence in our society is plain for all to see. And, it goes without saying that the deprivation of women worldwide not only to education but to dignity and human rights is a disgrace. Mount Holyoke has an important leadership role to play on the world stage, as an advocate and beacon lighting the way for the education and advancement of women of the world. Indeed, in a couple of weeks we will be hosting on campus a conference entitled "Women's Education Worldwide: The Unfinished Agenda" with presidents and deans from women's colleges from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Australia as well as North America.

Is it any wonder, then, that this College is so inspirational to its students--and to all people who are affiliated by it? In a world overwhelmingly shaped and dominated by men, this College stands apart, with a pioneering, proud, and powerful legacy shaped largely by and entirely for women.

And, more than that, in a universe of hundreds of colleges and universities, coed and single sex, this College stands out for academic excellence, generation after generation. Here dedicated scholar-teachers and talented, serious minded students come together in an intense community of learning second to none. And the Campaign has made an enormous difference to our ability to sustain and enhance that excellence.

At the heart of the enterprise is our commitment to linking the liberal arts with purposeful engagement in the world. The liberal arts, "the arts of thought, perception, and judgment: the arts that foster humanity and civility of spirit ºit is these arts that Mount Holyoke College places at the center of its life," to quote from the Principles of the College. Here students get an education that will transform their lives and prepare them for roles they may not have even imagined. Here they develop the confidence and competence, connection and community. Here agents of change are born because idealism is palpable and motivational.

What could be more important than educating the next generation for enlightened and impassioned and ethical leadership and citizenship? Nothing is more valuable or more needed. No cause is more worthy of our support. It is not an overstatement to say that that excellent and purposeful liberal arts education, of the kind you find at this college, is our civilization's best hope. And no place does it better than Mount Holyoke College.

It should be a matter of particular pride to all of us who have worked for this College over the past several years that it is stronger than it has ever been, more robust, more confident, more ready to assume the mantle of leadership for excellent women's education so boldly pioneered by Mary Lyon.

We couldn't have had this success without the impressive mobilization of the larger Mount Holyoke community. An extraordinary 81 percent of alumnae have contributed to this Campaign. Volunteers across the country and around the world have fanned out and filled to overflowing little green bags making this Campaign a roaring success. And in the forefront of them all are you, oh most loyal and true. What an extraordinary band of colleagues you are: paid and unpaid, on staff and out in the precincts. You have given unstintingly of your time and energy and money. You have made all the difference. Altogether, it has been a great collaboration, a great adventure, and a great deal of fun as well. I have so enjoyed getting to know you all. I feel honored to be part of this noble enterprise. And so I say thank you, thank you, thank you. For your generosity, your energy, your wisdom, your support, your esprit de corps, and most especially for your belief in the grand and glorious and galvanizing idea of Mount Holyoke College.