Honorary Degree Citation
May 24, 2009
President Mary McAleese, Mount Holyoke College is delighted to welcome you as our 172nd commencement speaker and to salute your accomplishments as an international leader and stateswoman. We are grateful to our trustee and Congressman, the Honorable Richard Neal, for making your visit possible. Daughter of Belfast, you grew up during the Troubles and witnessed firsthand the violence that tore the North of Ireland apart for decades. Determined to find a better way, you studied law at Queens University, Belfast, and Trinity College Dublin, and were named—at the age of 24—the Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Penology at Trinity College. During your career as a barrister, you took up the causes of sectarian reconciliation and social justice. You returned to Belfast in 1987 to become director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies at Queen’s University, where you were named pro-vice chancellor in 1994, the first woman and second Catholic to hold the position.
But that was just the beginning of a remarkable series of "firsts." In 1997, you were elected the eighth president of the Republic of Ireland. This made you the first president of Ireland to have been born in Ulster, and the first woman in history to succeed another woman, Mary Robinson, as an elected head of state. You were reelected to a second seven-year term in 2004, with such overwhelming popular support that you ran unopposed. During your years as president, Ireland has experienced unprecedented change: the Good Friday accord of 1998 paved the way for a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland and a peace process between Catholics and Protestants. The same period has seen Ireland’s entry as an important player in the global economy. You have said that your role as president is to build bridges, not just between North and South, but between urban and rural, young and old, the comfortable and the struggling. Women, you have argued, are especially good at finding the spaces where change can begin, and understanding that progress is made one person, one heart, at a time. In your own work, you have demonstrated the “patience, imagination and courage” that reconciliation requires. You share with Mount Holyoke’s founder, Mary Lyon, the conviction that “one life lived well can make a difference.” Yours surely has. President McAleese, it is a privilege to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.