By Keely Sexton
The honorable Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan — and contender for governor of Puerto Rico — came to Mount Holyoke College to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Weissman Center for Leadership and its commitment to preparing the many students of a gender diverse women’s college for leadership roles.
“It is what I’ve come to believe the Weissman Center and Mount Holyoke College are all about,” Cruz said. “It is not to cookie-cut what a leader should be, it doesn’t matter what your passion is or if you are trans or lesbian. The Weissmann Center for Leadership encourages and embraces all the possibilities of leadership in a variety of spectrums.”
Cruz herself understands the importance of developing strong leadership skills even in — or perhaps especially in — times of adversity. In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Cruz was thrust into the international spotlight for her activism and criticism of the Trump administration’s slow response to Puerto Rico’s needs. As mayor, she interspersed her on-the-ground rescue and relief efforts with calls to the world to pay attention to the needs of the people. Listening and responding, she said, is true leadership.
“If you follow people they will let you lead them,” she said. “It’s about getting people to collaborate to do the things that they want to do. If you’re doing it right, it’s like a symphony.”
In the aftermath of the storm, Puerto Ricans were without power, clean drinking water, medical help and basic necessities — problems that persist to this day. But that did not stop them from helping one another as they could.
“One of the things I’ve learned about leadership is that you can find it in the most unimaginable places. It usually stems from someone’s need to right a wrong,” said Cruz.
Pivoting to the political and cultural climate today, she again underscored the need for leaders to find a new way, and for places like the Weissman Center to help develop those leaders and their skills.
“What is happening today, not only in the United States but all over the world is that women are becoming the face of a new generation, and they are bringing with them a new framework of thinking, a new paradigm — a paradigm that says if it’s wrong we will not stand for it. If it’s wrong, we don’t have to stand for it. If it’s wrong we better get off our heinies and do something about it!”
Mount Holyoke and Cruz have worked together since 2017 when Cruz first visited the College. That visit resulted in a partnership between the College and San Juan, aimed at advancing girls and women in San Juan with a summer STEM camp for girls in San Juan, first piloted in 2018.
For the anniversary celebration of the Weissman Center, Cruz came bearing three letters by STEM camp alumnae, written for Harriet Weissman ’58, whose vision and investment brought the center into being.
They all began with the phrase, “Now I am a scientist.”
In the coming summer, the STEM camp will expand again, this time bringing in additional students who will learn the curriculum so that they can expand into different schools. Cruz credits the Mount Holyoke students who come to teach the camp with giving students a clear path.
That sense of future, community and hope is what Cruz believes makes a leader.
“They see themselves in a way that they probably never would have seen themselves before,” she said. “Mount Holyoke College has provided them with real role models.”