Convocation 2012: Amber Douglas

Tuesday, September 4, 2012 - 08:59

Amber Douglas, associate professor of psychology and education

My favorite part of convocation is the acknowledgement of each of the classes by someone up here and the enthusiastic response from all of you out there. On behalf of the faculty of Mount Holyoke College, I would like to extend a warm welcome to the first-year class, class of 2016; welcome back the second-year students, the class of 2015, the juniors, class of 2014, Frances Perkins scholars, and, last but not least, the seniors class, class of 2013.
Remember, don’t eat the cookie.

This past spring I had the honor of speaking to the seniors on the eve of their graduation. After the initial joy passed at having been asked, I settled down to try and figure out what I was actually going to say. In the end, I spoke about tradition and memory. The traditions of this institution, as you know, or will soon come to know, are extensive. For example, there is today, and soon after (hint hint) there is Mountain Day, and M & Cs in the dorms, and the laurel parade. There are the class colors, and the class animals, and the ever popular Las Vegas Night. These traditions become synonymous with MHC and they frequently serve as the foundation of the memories of this time and this place in your life.

This topic seemed timely. At the end of last semester when I spoke with graduating seniors, I was struck by their sense of urgency as they attempted to soak in all that was Mount Holyoke, to relive all that they had enjoyed during their time on campus. I was impressed that as they were poised to embark on new adventures they found comfort in this place and the traditions that were now a part of their lived experience. At that moment, at the ending of college for these students, it seemed appropriate to provide a reminder of sorts: That while they were leaving the College, they were taking with them the memories of their experiences to be readily accessed, rehearsed, and relived.To underscore this fact, I asked them to participate in a psychological exercise. I gave them a cookie. I suggested to them that evening that a cookie could be a way of connecting each of them to the College; that it would connect them to the traditions of Mount Holyoke that over the course of their two, three, or four years at the institution had been etched into their memory. I suggested that a cookie would no longer be just a cookie.

Now in the light of day, several months, later, I clearly want to make a similar statement. You have a cookie in your hand. But I recognize that speaking about memories is a bit presumptuous and premature as we stand at the beginning rather than the end.

So, how do I talk to you about endings at a beginning?

I think our most recent alumni have a lesson to teach us. In their final weeks as students at the College, they were trying with all their might to remember everything about their time here, everything about their classes, about their cocurricular activities, about the campus, about their friends, and this wonderful “rural cosmopolitan oasis.” They reported that time had (mostly) flown by. They said, they couldn’t believe that they were graduating. Many felt like they had missed something.

But you can take note from their behavior, you can learn vicariously from them. As you embark upon this new year, your first, or final at Mount Holyoke or one in between, I urge you to be present. To do more than show up for your activities, classes, and meals, to be active participants in all that you chose to be involved in. To take note of the things that you love, like, and hate, to connect to these encounters and to be purposeful and intentional in your choices. I am not saying that you won’t want to relive you time here—we and the Alumnae Association count on that. But I wonder, if you can live in the present for now. And relive what was great in the future.

At the start of any academic year, one could remark on the auspiciousness of a particular moment in time. And for sure, in 2012, there is a lot to take note of inside and outside the gates. For example, in November big things will occur. An event that will be felt throughout the globe—a much discussed and anticipated event. The fifth and final installment of the Twilight series will come to a theater near you.

So whether it is voting for the first time or for the first time in a presidential election, or if it is taking a course outside of your comfort zone, getting to know someone who appears completely different from you, traveling 5,000 miles to get here, or seeing a movie—be present in those moments. Notice what the experience is like. Be an active participant.

So for right now, I want you to engage in an exercise with me—I want you to focus on being present. Now is the time to eat your cookie. But, while you do it, think about what it tastes like, what it is like to be here today right now and eat your cookie.
Have a wonderful year and enjoy your cookie.