Campaign Kickoff Remarks

Leslie Anne Miller '73
October 28, 2006

Thank you, Ellie Claus. We are grateful for all you have done for Mount Holyoke over the years. Thank you for your leadership of the Board of Trustees during the last campaign, which supported one of the most remarkable periods of institutional renewal in the College's history. I would also like to thank your cochair from that campaign--Harriet Weissman. All of us at Mount Holyoke owe both of you a tremendous debt of gratitude for your leadership and example. Thank you, Ellie and Harriet!

Over my tenure on the Board of Trustees I have watched this institution grow in strength on so many fronts: record breaking admissions numbers, stunning faculty achievements, innovative programs and facilities. It is a testament to the cohesive sense of purpose articulated in two strategic plans, shared across the institution, and so carefully nurtured by Joanne Creighton's artful leadership. Joanne, your stewardship of this beloved institution has brought you well-deserved acclaim from within and beyond the Mount Holyoke community. We all thank you for the tremendous work you have done to put the College in such a strong position as we embark on this Campaign.

While we're on the subject of thank-yous, I cannot complete my list without acknowledging the contributions of my Campaign cochair, Barb Baumann. In the quiet phase of this campaign, she has demonstrated herself to be a fundraising dynamo. Equally important, her financial acumen and wise counsel have been invaluable in our planning stage. Finally, her ongoing friendship has been a special gift to me. Thank you, Barb, for your enormous contribution.

Of course, the sense of purpose that will propel us can be traced back to our founder, Mary Lyon. Perhaps no other institution keeps its founder so spiritually--and physically--close. Today we stand the oldest continuing institution of higher education for women in the United States, which points to the obvious conclusion that Mary Lyon got something very right.

Our founder was an idealist to be sure, and she had a well-formed educational vision that shaped the institution she was to found. Mount Holyoke Seminary was built on three pillars of strength that made it revolutionary in its day and a model for others to this very day. One pillar was academic excellence. Mary Lyon insisted from the beginning that the curriculum be cutting-edge and taught at the college level by experts in their fields, even if at first that meant borrowing some "men" from up the road.

A second pillar was student access. Mary Lyon was convinced that what the fledgling American society needed was not the perpetuation of privilege, but the provision of education to those who would benefit the most from it regardless of means or social standing, and to those who would help create an engaged, productive, moral middle class. Mount Holyoke Seminary produced graduates who made a difference in their families, in their communities, and even around the globe.

But Mary Lyon was also a pragmatist. She knew she needed money, she knew where to get it, and, most importantly, she knew how to get it. (We all know the story of Mary Lyon and the little green purse.) She understood that lofty ideals alone would not change the world. Nor was Mary Lyon content to live hand-to-mouth or year-to-year. She understood that the institution would have to have its own financial base to provide stability and self-determination in order to pursue its mission.

So, instead of launching the seminary with the little cash she had in hand, she spent years building an endowment--which would become the College's third pillar--before the first students arrived. As you know, the endowment that began in the green velvet purse is still with us today. Thanks to generations of faithful friends and alumnae like you, it's continued to grow steadily since 1837.

Now, here we are in 2006 ready to launch a campaign that will raise $300 million. What would Mary Lyon say to that? First, she would say that "green is the new black, goes with everything," and the purse should be carried with you at all times!

I hope that Mary Lyon would also be as excited about the possibilities and challenges which confront this institution as I am; as we all should be. Mount Holyoke has never been stronger or as vibrant. Our students are better than ever and our faculty continues to be among the very best in the nation. What is most remarkable from my vantage as chair is that the three pillars that Mary Lyon established over a century and a half ago are still those that sustain Mount Holyoke today.

Since 2001, our science faculty, for example, have led the nation's liberal arts colleges in earning grants from the National Science Foundation. This remarkable track record is indisputable proof of their scholarly excellence.

Our faculty currently includes a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, a Carnegie Scholar, six Guggenheim awardees, a MacArthur Fellow, two Woodrow Wilson National Fellowships, and a winner of a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (the highest award bestowed by the U.S. government to early career scientists).

Our graduates, too, distinguish themselves: Mount Holyoke ranked first among liberal arts colleges in producing women who received Ph.D.s in the life sciences from 1996 to 2001 (321). We were fourth among over 1,000 colleges and universities in the number of graduates who went on to earn Ph.D.s in history in the 1990s. We were sixth in languages and tenth in psychology and English. Truly remarkable!

These wonderful professors and students are able to pursue their callings thanks to the learning community and the resources that Mount Holyoke provides them.

But, my friends, our three pillars of academic excellence, access, and endowment need constant attention. Mary Lyon's vision is alive and well, to be sure. Our job, as the stewards of that vision, is to keep Mount Holyoke vibrant and able to meet twenty-first-century demands. It is an awesome trust. We are responsible for the continuation of a set of ideals that revolutionized women's education nearly 170 years ago and still has the power to change the world today. I know that we are up to that challenge. We accept it with pride.

Thank you for all you have done for Mount Holyoke. But more importantly, thank you for all that you are going to do in the next five years.

Related Links:

$300 Million Campaign for MHC Launched

McCullochs Celebrated at CGI Dedication

Campaign Kickoff Remarks by Joanne V. Creighton