Associate Professor of Chemistry
September 9, 2009
Like all of the best stories, this one began once upon a time, in a faraway land. Or was it a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away? Or perhaps it was just last week, in the middle of New Jersey. Regardless, at some time in the past, a young woman set forth on an Adventure.
And who is this young woman, our heroine? She is smart, accomplished, and possessed of a certain quirk of character that inclines her to step beyond the world with which she is familiar. Thus, she packs up everything she owns of any consequence into a series of bags, boxes, and trunks; she leaves her family and friends behind; and she sets off to meet new people, learn new things, see the world, and hopefully figure out what it is that she will do with the rest of her life. In short order, her travels bring her to a strange and magical place inhabited by green griffins, azure lions, golden sphinxes, and, most notably, the crimson Pegasus.
At this point in any good tale, the heroine inevitably encounters someone who will set her on her way with wishes, curses, or tasks: the stepmother, the witch, the mysterious hooded stranger, the Jedi master. In this case, our heroine encounters her fairy godmother.
Hello heroines, I'm your Fairy Godmother, and I have appeared here to bestow upon you three gifts to help you on the adventure that is the coming year. I'm sure you would all appreciate "health and happiness," "fame and fortune," and "a perfect 4.0 GPA," but like most of us of the fairy persuasion, I must confess to being a bit mischievous. I wanted to grant you something beyond the ordinary, such as beautiful long, curly hair that never needs brushing, or the ability to sing beautifully and play every instrument, or even the ability to turn frogs into princes with a single kiss. Unfortunately, long hair and perfect pitch are somewhat outside my jurisdiction, and amphibians of any sort just didn't make the budget this year, what with the recession and all. And so instead I brought you three gifts that I thought would be more practical for your Adventure.
Gift #1: The first gift is bravery, since every good adventurer requires a little bravery. If Red Riding Hood had decided to stay home and update her Facebook page because the forest was just too scary, we wouldn't have a story. In the coming year, you too might need the gift of a little extra bravery to try new things, outside the boundaries of your comfort zone.
First-years and transfers who are new to the College, a little extra bravery might help you to go talk to your professors at office hours. For all that you might fear approaching us in our lairs, we are not dragons who will eat your heads off. Instead, as Penny Gill has been known to say, your professors are actually very friendly introverts. On the other hand, perhaps what you are afraid of isn't people, but failure--you might need help braving a new endeavor, such as trying out for a musical group or a sports team, or trying a new subject. Remember that a little embarrassment and failure won't really hurt you.
For those of you who have been here a little longer, you might use this gift of extra bravery to apply for an internship, talk to a professor about doing some independent work, run for SGA, or think about going abroad. What is it that has always sounded interesting and exciting to do, but you are afraid to try?
Seniors, I know this college thing is old hat to you--but life just beyond the nine-month horizon probably looks pretty terrifying right now. I grant you this gift of bravery to apply for your dream job. Send out that résumé--even if it means that you might get rejected (which is scary), or that you might get an interview (which is even scarier!). Maybe you secretly wish to join the Peace Corps or Americorps, or fear you aren't good enough for graduate school. All of us here have our secret dreams and fears, but you are the heroines of this story, so you cannot let fear stand in your way.
Gift #2: The second gift is the gift of wonder. Mount Holyoke, this amazing and magical place we inhabit, is chock-full of strange universes of thoughts and ideas you didn't even know existed. The best part is that you don't even need a magical wardrobe to find them--whether by intent, accident of distribution requirements, or quirks of ISIS, you can find a new world practically behind every door here. The only bit of magic you need is to cast off the trappings of teenage coolness, and trade it in for passion and enthusiasm.
It's easy to be cynical and apathetic. Instead, I encourage you to open yourself up to the possibilities, and throw yourself entirely into something you find completely amazing, be it molecules or rocks, the history of women who have come before us, the development of the human mind...whatever makes you say "wow." Seek out something you've never heard of before. If you've already found something that inspires and amazes you but it doesn't seem "practical," don't be afraid of the unexpected and unconventional. Wonder has so many facets: joy in discovery of something absolutely new; appreciation of what is elegant and clever, intricate or simple in your surroundings; empathy with the sufferings of others; the desire to create new, useful, beautiful things. By cultivating and sharing your wonder, you will make your communities better places. I know that my life is better for sharing in the wonder and enthusiasm of Mount Holyoke students over the past six years, and I am grateful that I get to be a part of your adventure.
Gift #3: The third gift I give you is an appreciation for the journey upon which you are embarked, and not just the destination. As you may remember, when Dorothy's friends get to the Emerald City, they discover they've already found the brains, heart, and courage they sought along the Yellow Brick Road. The work you do here, the things you create, and the friends you make are all critical pieces of your personal adventure, and not just something to get past to your "real" grown-up life. Thus, I wish that you will be the best heroine you can be, passing up intellectual shortcuts and mediocre obscurity in favor of real challenges and genuine triumphs. Eschew text messages and "tweets" in favor of long, rambling, meaningful conversations with live people. These are the good-old days about which you will reminisce at reunions 40 years from now--I hope you will make them memorable.
Good luck ladies, and may the next year be full of "happily ever afters" for all of you.