Posted: May 24, 2009
"With anticipation of new beginnings, we give thanks for the past four years." These words spoken by the Reverend Sherry Tucker MAT '92, chaplain and advisor to the Protestant community, opened the baccalaureate service for the class of 2009. Held in Abbey Chapel at 9 p.m. on the eve of commencement, this Mount Holyoke tradition dates to 1885 and brings together the graduating class for reflection and inspiration. This year, the seniors selected Kavita Datla, assistant professor of history, and Frederick J. McGinness, professor and chair of history and chair of complex organizations, as faculty speakers. The student speakers were Boradeth Som, an English major from Lowell, Massachusetts, and Sarah Ng, an English and music double major from Hong Kong.
Following the processional march played by College Organist Larry D. Schipull--and a rousing chant of "'09! '09!" by the senior class--President Joanne V. Creighton welcomed the students and their assembled family members and friends. Along with offering congratulations, Creighton acknowledged that the graduates were entering a world in crisis. "Yet it is a time of hope," she added. "And you are our great hope. You have the potential to make a difference and to help us navigate out of troubled waters…."
Som, the first speaker, chose to offer her classmates the alternative vision of success as penned by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Her reading was followed by a performance of the 2009 Baccalaureate Choir, which featured twenty-nine seniors. Conducted by Kimberly Dunn Adams, director of choir ensembles and lecturer in music, the choir performed a selection adapted from a South African folksong.
Datla, the first faculty speaker, began by explaining that her name, Kavita, means poem. She then recited "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver and focused her comments on the poem's closing lines: "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,/the world offers itself to your imagination,/calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-/over and over announcing your place/in the family of things." Noting the environmental, economic, social, and political "perils" that the current world also offers, Datla urged the class of 2009 not to leave behind their Mount Holyoke practice of “thinking long and hard about the problems that confront us." In closing, she again referenced Oliver's poem, saying: "So notice the clear pebbles of rain moving across landscapes and the clean blue air which is home to wild geese. Head home and travel far; do not worry about being good, but know that the world, whoever you are, offers itself to your imagination. Allow your imagination to be strong enough and courageous enough to answer its calls."
Ng also spoke about the distinct challenges faced by the class of 2009. "Perhaps more than any other class in recent years, we will be stepping out into world of uncertainties, with a financial crisis; growing unemployment; and a messy, unfinished war," she said. Like Creighton and Datla, she, too, offered a message of hope, positing that Mount Holyoke had prepared all of the graduates "for anything this uncertain world has to throw at us. Our openness to new people, new situations, and even new problems is something that will serve us well in the years to come."
McGinness's address, aptly titled "History Lessons," described the origins and evolution of the baccalaureate service. It also examined "the timeless virtue of fortitude," a theme well known to the thirteenth-century clerics who were the first university students. Defining fortitude as "moral courage, the ability to speak the truth openly, to say the right thing at the right time, and to persevere with the consequences of speaking out your convictions," McGinness then alerted the class of 2009 to one lesson that history consistently teaches. He explained, "You will at some time in your life face that lonely moment when you must have fortitude, when someone asks you to cut corners, pass over a mistake, or hold your tongue--when you feel deep in your gut there is something terribly wrong…. It is my hope--and the hope of all of us here--that you…will have the courage to stand up for what is right and persevere in that commitment…."
The service concluded with closing words by Reverend Gladys G. Moore, dean of religious and spiritual life and director of diversity and inclusion.
Earlier in the evening, Sadiqa Basiri Saleem FP '09, an international relations major, received Mount Holyoke's distinguished Presidential Scholar/Leader Award. Last awarded in 2006, it is given "from time to time to a graduating senior who has demonstrated both outstanding academic achievement and outstanding leadership in the community." Basiri Saleem is the founder of six schools for girls and four literacy centers for women in her homeland of Afghanistan. This spring, she was among six women--including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton--presented with awards by the Vital Voices Global Partnership in a ceremony at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; Basiri Saleem also was the subject of a feature article in the May 1 issue of Newsweek.
Frederick J. McGinness, Professor and Chair of History and Chair of Complex Organizations
Kavita Datla, Assistant Professor of History
Sarah Ng '09