Collins Tells Grads to Pick Up Fight

Sunday, May 23, 2010 - 14:51

After handing out more than 7,000 diplomas in her 14-and-a-half years as president of Mount Holyoke College, Joanne V. Creighton enjoyed the honor of receiving one herself. At the College's 173rd commencement on May 23 in Gettell Amphitheater, Creighton, who will step down from the presidency this summer, received a standing ovation as she accepted an honorary degree from Leslie Anne Miller, chair of the College’s board of trustees.

Miller praised Creighton for her accomplishments on the campus and beyond.

"You saw the power and potential embedded in the College's mission, and you helped us take pride in our leadership role as the longest-standing women's college in the world and the most international selective liberal arts college," said Miller.

Accepting her degree, Creighton said she was proud to join the class of 2010 as a "bona fide MoHo graduate."

"In fact," she said, "I could now be called: JoJo MoHo."

She acknowledged that, like many members of the class of 2010, she does not know yet where she'll go next. She urged the graduates and their parents to "Relax! Take comfort in the fact that Mount Holyoke, almost without your realizing it, has been honing in you the analytical skills and the mental agility, the knowledge and the discrimination, the reflective habits and the ethical perspectives fundamental to a useful and fulfilling life."

Mount Holyoke also conferred honorary degrees on Victoria Hale, world health advocate and entrepreneur, and Sheila Barshay Goldbloom '47, educator, social worker and, community activist, and commencement speaker New York Times columnist Gail Collins, the first woman ever to head the Times' editorial page. Creighton praised Collins's work, saying, "Your New York Times columns have become, for many of us, the first thing we turn to every Thursday and Saturday morning. Your wisdom and wit have been particularly treasured as the nation's political discourse has become ever more polarized and shrill. Twice a week, you make us smile, but you also make us smarter."

Collins told the class of 2010, "Today is totally about you, and I want you to take advantage of that. When you go out to celebrate, to parties and dinners, feel free to be totally self-centered. Tell long stories about people that nobody else has heard of. Interrupt freely. Take big bites out of everybody else’s dessert. Tomorrow you have to remake the world, but today is your day. So rest up and enjoy it."

Collins, who has written two books on the history of women's rights including, most recently, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, reminded the class of 2010 how far women have come in the past 50 years. Collins recalled, for example, that when she attended Marquette University, female students were not allowed to wear slacks, except to go bowling, and that at Barnard College, seniors who were engaged to be married received corsages--while the others were given lemons.

Despite the huge obstacles facing women in the 1960s, Collins acknowledged that "in many ways we had the easy road. There’s absolutely nothing better than being out on a picket line, carrying your protest sign, fighting against things that are so completely wrong you suspect even the people you’re picketing know they’re completely wrong."

Collins exhorted the class of 2010 to meet the challenges still facing women, such as childcare and violence against women.

"We’re trusting you to pick up these fights," she said. "Whatever the problem, no matter how complicated and oblique, the solution tends always to work the same way. Talk to other women. Support other women. Have confidence in the community of women. Have faith in your future. That’s how it all gets done."

Honorary degree recipient Victoria Hale founded the Institute for OneWorld Health, the nation’s first nonprofit pharmaceutical company, in 2000. Creighton told her, "When others turned away from the problem, you seized the opportunity, leaving a legacy of health and hope where before there was none. You remind us that as global citizens we can and must use our own insight and influence, no matter our station, to make the world a better place."

Hale told the class of 2010 that, thanks to pharmaceuticals,"You will live to be 100. This is a long time." She urged them to commit a portion of their lives "to healing the planet or caring for humanity" and to "take personal responsibility for problems that have nothing to do with you." In conclusion, she asked everyone to close their eyes for a few seconds and to "think about all the people on the planet and the condition of our planet, and the beautiful world we live in, and all the other gifts we have to be thankful for and that you, the class of 2010, are blessed to have."

Creighton recognized honorary degree recipient Goldbloom for her long and distinguished career as a community activist and teacher at McGill School of Social Work in Montreal.

"Your teaching and volunteer commitments with organizations like Centraide, the Red Feather Foundation, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and Meals on Wheels have all focused on bridging social and ethnic differences—between English and French-speaking peoples, between Christians and Jews, and between the privileged and the poor," Creighton said. "In your lifelong dedication to purposeful engagement in the world, you are a true daughter of Mary Lyon."

Goldbloom expressed gratitude to Mount Holyoke for setting her on a "path of lifelong learning." She credited the College for what she "learned, experienced, and absorbed during my four years here, living in a community of friends and scholars which gave clarity to my values and my life objectives." Goldbloom also expounded on the value of a liberal arts education.

"We live today in an age of extraordinary technological change, and it is seductive to focus on that as what we need to learn--but it is through liberal arts that we become broadly educated and socially fulfilled, and fulfilling human beings. It is through liberal arts that we develop our capacity to adapt as we meet new challenges and opportunities," she said.

Student speaker Sarah Elahi '10, of Karachi, Pakistan, expressed her confidence in her classmates' capability "to take really good care of the world that we're commencing into. We know how much there is to do, and we are willing to try, whether this means working ourselves to the bone, or letting the world cradle us and heal us into being whole again." Having had the privilege of a Mount Holyoke education, she said, "We have acquired the ability to know what we need, and that we need to give back."

A mixture of midday sun and clouds filled the skies over the throngs of students, professors, and proud parents, families, and friends who toted video cameras and bouquets of flowers and gathered on the lawn near Mount Holyoke founder Mary Lyon's grave. The College conferred 23 certificates to international students, one postbaccalaureate certificate, and 596 bachelor of arts degrees to seniors, including 36 Frances Perkins Scholars.

Always current with the latest in social media, Mount Holyoke allowed Twitter fans to follow the event via live tweets from Magdalena Georgieva '10. For the second year, Mount Holyoke broadcast the ceremony live around the world via the Web.

"This is so important and popular because so many of our students come from all over the world," said Kay Althoff, associate director of the Frances Perkins Program.

Related Links:

Full Commencement Coverage

Class of 2010 Baccalaureate Service

Class of 2010 Cheered at Laurel Parade