Cerri Banks, Dean of the College

Convocation Address
September 6, 2011

Hello! I would like to add my welcome to the class of 2012, the class of 2013, the class of 2014, the class of 2015, all Frances Perkins students and transfer students.

It is such an honor to be here with all of you this morning. Yes, it is raining but it is still such a beautiful day. As Orientation and moving in ends, and as classes begin, I hope that you are invigorated by the freshness of the new semester and in the contemplation of the active intellectual and social life you can and will live here at Mount Holyoke College.

The founder of Mount Holyoke College, Mary Lyon, had the vision to see the importance of women, regardless of socioeconomic status, being educated during a time when that was not a popular social ideal. Back then, Mary Lyon could not have imagined that, at this moment in time, women would dominate higher education at almost every degree level.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women surpass men in earning bachelor's degrees, by 1.5 million. A recent Huffington Post article reported that women outnumber men for the first time when it comes to finishing college and holding advanced degrees. Among adults 25 and older, 10.6 million in the U.S. who earned a master's degree or higher were women, compared to 10.5 million men.

I think Mary Lyon would be thrilled, don’t you?

And while this news is impressive, we have learned from the book Half the Sky that there are many countries where women still cannot go to college, and right here in our own country many women do not have access to the level of educational excellence you will experience at Mount Holyoke.

So how do we honor Mary Lyon’s vision and her hard work?

We do so by continuing to forward her agenda of equitable access to education for all women. We expand our agendas to pay close attention to the needs and offer support for women around the globe and in our own community.

We do so by studying hard, challenging ourselves to enter into and excel at every field of study and every area of work. A liberal arts education provides the best foundation for any career path.

We honor Mary Lyon’s leadership by taking care of our environment, building and maintaining an inclusive community, and leaving a record of achievement and excellence for those who will come to Mount Holyoke College long after we are all gone.

We honor her legacy by championing women’s ways of knowing, learning, and reflecting and by NEVER, EVER apologizing for our success.

In the book The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, written by Muriel Spark, the lead character, Jean Brodie, is a headstrong teacher at a private girls’ school in the 1930s. She was known for stepping outside of the curriculum to teach her students about love, politics, and art. In the text her character explains:

“To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil's soul.”

Mount Holyoke College is known for excellence in academics and activism, and that excellence comes from the soul of each and every one of you who have chosen this educational path and the souls of the women who have come before you.

You were selected to be a part of this sisterhood because of your passions, your values, your character, and your hard work. Let these ideals be your guide in the coming year.

As I look out at all of you today, I believe Mary Lyon would be thrilled!

Have a wonderful semester. We are so happy to be on this journey with you.

(Note: This printed text may vary from the speech delivered.)