Convocation 2007

Convocation Address
Joanne V. Creighton
September 5, 2007

Welcome new students, faculty, and staff, and welcome back all returning members of the MHC community. It's great to see you all once again and to begin formally this, the 171st year of this venerable institution, the proud, oldest, and boldest women's college in the world. A very special welcome back to the class of '08 seniors at last--capped and gowned as befits your august status--and a warm welcome to the class of '11 just coming in the door.

A lot has been happening on campus while you have been away. You have surely noticed a mammoth building rising from the parking lot next to Pratt Hall. This, our new residence hall, the first in 40 years, will continue to move along rapidly and dramatically over this academic year and be ready for occupancy for some 176 lucky MHC students next fall. Class of '08, don't be jealous: you will undoubtedly have opportunities over the years as alumnae to enjoy the amenities of this building. I hope you think this new addition to our campus as beautiful as I do: at once classic and with-it, blending traditional and state-of-the-art, urban and rural, campus and countryside.

And if you've been over by Kendall, you will see a splendid new track and turf field and lights. No longer will students be able to bring me pieces of the track to demonstrate its poor condition! And soon to begin is the expansion and renovation of Kendall itself, which will include the construction of new space for dance studios on the right of the building and then, when that's finished, transformation of the current dance studios into a light, airy, prominent, and classy exercise facility. I hope you agree that it's exciting to see these enhancements to what is already an extraordinary campus. Insisting that Mount Holyoke have a physical permanence right here in this beautiful spot, Mary Lyon wrote: "Stone and bricks and mortar speak a language that vibrates in my very soul." We still hear that language loud and clear.

It is especially satisfying that the new residence hall, like the Science Center and campus center before it, will be a "green" building, meeting high environmental responsibility standards. We take our environmental stewardship of this campus very seriously, just as we take our stewardship of the earth seriously, and this year the common reading for the first-year class, indeed, for the entire campus, is Elizabeth Kolbert's Field Notes from a Catastrophe. This rather disturbing book explores climate change and our relationship to the earth. I hope you had a chance to read it over the summer and that you will come out to hear Ms. Kolbert on September 19 and a faculty panel tomorrow, September 6, at 7:30 in Gamble. This subject could not be more important and more timely.

And speaking of the earth, I traveled partially around it over the summer, to the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, and India. And, everywhere I go I encounter Mount Holyoke alums. Even when I was on vacation in South Africa a few years ago, I found, when I checked into my hotel, a note waiting for me from three alumnae, who said "We know you're there and we want to see you!" That Mount Holyoke connection is tenacious and defies physical separation. That has been the case from the very earliest days of this institution when successive generations of intrepid Mount Holyoke women went out from here to pioneer in a number of fields and to found well over 40 schools and colleges across this country and in Canada, Argentina, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Armenia, Persia, India, China, Japan, Hong Kong, and South Africa, and serving as president or principal of over 100 others. Several of the schools they founded served people excluded from traditional educational systems: Native Americans, African Americans, the blind, the deaf, the educationally impaired. And everywhere they went they kept Mount Holyoke in their minds and hearts and they imparted the ideals of the College, especially the conviction that educated women should make a positive difference in the world.

This summer I visited Women's Christian College in Chennai (formerly Madras), India, which was in 1921 named a "sister" college of Mount Holyoke, as each of the "Seven Sisters," adopted an Asian sister. I'm pleased to report that our Asian sister is a thriving liberal arts college for women almost exactly our size, and that Mount Holyoke is deeply revered and emulated at this wonderful college thousands of miles from here. There is even a dorm called "Holyoke Hostel" and an annual event called "Mount Holyoke." Their SGA is strikingly similar; it was formed decades ago under the leadership of Eleanor Mason, Mount Holyoke 1919, one of their early principals. I had the honor to participate in the naming of a building after her during my visit. This is just one of countless examples of the powerful influence this College has had in shaping a distinctive tradition of women's education around the world.

In recent years we have taken up with renewed energy our legacy as the founding mother of the women's college movement and have formed, along with Smith College, a new alliance of women's colleges from around the world, called Women's Education Worldwide. We now have nearly 50 institutions in this alliance, including newly emerging women's colleges in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Dubai, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. A core group of us met, in Bellagio, Italy, this summer, with the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, to plan how we can make the most of our alliance and work together to advocate for the education and advancement of women of the world, the great unfinished agenda of the twenty-first century. You may be interested to know that we will be hosting a global conference of students from these colleges from around the world on our campus and Smith's in early June of next summer: it should be a wonderful opportunity to learn from each other.

From early days until now, Mount Holyoke graduates spanned the globe. And now, women from all over the world come here as well. Per square mile, this little college in western Mass. is one of the most cosmopolitan places on earth! Mount Holyoke is a truly international college with a notably diverse faculty and student body. Our faculty --with 25 percent people of color and 30 percent foreign born -- is the most diverse among any of our peer colleges, coed or single sex. And so is our student body the most diverse -- with 40 percent of our student body either ALANA or international, from every state and 70 countries of the world. This is deliberately so. All the people of the world are one human community sharing one fragile earth. Mount Holyoke is a microcosm of that world. Our goal is to build community out of diversity amid countless examples throughout the world of failed communities. It is not always easy. But it is always a worthwhile goal.

Although one can travel far as I did this summer, there is no better place to become a global citizen than right here in South Hadley. We are so lucky to have gathered together in this beautiful spot such an extraordinary collection of talented and idealistic, interesting and different people. Together, you all help to create a learning opportunity second to none. Let's all make the most of it, and let's all have a most productive and enjoyable semester.

My best wishes to you all, and do join us for lunch on Skinner Green right after this event.

Related Links:

Audio - President Joanne V. Creighton
(QuickTime: 5.2 MB, Time: 11:14)

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Convocation Address by Katie Adler '08

Audio - Katie Adler '08
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Convocation Address by Russell Boudreau

Audio - Russell Boudreau
(QuickTime: 1.9 MB, Time: 4:07)

Convocation Address by Penny Gill

Audio - Penny Gill
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