Ireland's President Is Commencement Speaker

Posted: April 6, 2009

President Mary McAleese, eighth president of Ireland, will deliver the commencement address and receive an honorary degree at the 172nd Mount Holyoke College commencement Sunday, May 24. Two others will also receive honorary degrees from the College: Princess Lolowah al-Faisal al Saud, founder of Effat University, the first private university for women in Saudi Arabia, and Clare Waterman '89, chief of the Laboratory of Cell and Tissue Morphodynamics at the National Institute of Health's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

President McAleese will speak at the College as part of a visit to western Massachusetts organized with the support of Congressman Richard Neal, a leading Bay State political figure and trustee of Mount Holyoke. For many years, Neal has played a major role in guiding U.S. relations with Ireland.

"We are honored to have President McAleese as commencement speaker," said College President Joanne V. Creighton. "In overcoming discrimination and adversity in Belfast and in rising to become a leader of the Irish people, she exemplifies all that we hope for in Mount Holyoke students: leadership and a commitment to purposeful engagement in the world. Many in Massachusetts, with our longstanding ties to Ireland, will look forward to her remarks with great anticipation."

Creighton and Neal made the announcement to the press and to the president and vice president of the senior class at the Blanchard Campus Center on Monday morning.

"It is a great honor to have the eighth president of Ireland, Mary McAleese, visit western Massachusetts and give the commencement address at Mount Holyoke College. I have had the privilege of knowing President McAleese for many years, and she is one of the most progressive and charismatic leaders in public life today. A lawyer, a scholar, a journalist, Mary McAleese has the distinction of being the first president of Ireland born in Belfast. Her tenure as head of state has been a remarkable success, and Ireland's standing across the globe has never been stronger. I am looking forward to welcoming her to Mount Holyoke and the Pioneer Valley in May," said Congressman Richard E. Neal.

Fittingly, Mount Holyoke's Commencement will also be a "green" commencement, as graduating seniors work to use this event to build environmental awareness.

President McAleese

In 1997 Mary McAleese was inaugurated as the eighth president of Ireland and was reelected in 2004. She is a barrister and former professor of law. Born June 27, 1951, in Belfast, she is the country's first president from Northern Ireland.

The eldest of nine children, President McAleese grew up in Northern Ireland through the violent times that have come to be known as "The Troubles." Her family was one of many adversely affected by the conflict. She graduated with a degree in law from the Queen's University of Belfast in 1973 and was called to the Northern Ireland Bar in 1974. In 1975, she was appointed Reid Professor of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Penology at Trinity College Dublin, and in 1987 she returned to her alma mater, Queen's, to become director of the Institute of Professional Legal Studies. In 1994, she became the first female pro-vice chancellor of the Queen's University of Belfast.

President McAleese is an experienced broadcaster, having worked as a current affairs journalist and presenter in radio and television with Radio Telefís Éireann. She has a longstanding interest in many issues concerned with justice, equality, social inclusion, antisectarianism, and reconciliation. The theme of her presidency is "Building Bridges." She is married, since 1976, to Dr. Martin McAleese, an accountant and dentist. They have three children.

Princess Loulwa al-Faisal al Saud and Clare Waterman '89

Princess Loulwa al-Faisal al Saud, daughter of Queen Effat and the late King Faisal, has championed women's education and worked on behalf of social and family welfare in the Middle East. During the 1990s, she worked with her mother supervising Dar Al-Hanan School, the first private high school for girls in Saudi Arabia. In 1999, she founded Effat College, now Effat University, the first college exclusively for women in Saudi Arabia. The Princess currently serves as vice-chairman of the Board of Trustees and general supervisor. She led all phases of the school's founding, raising funds, developing curriculum, and overseeing the construction and hiring of faculty and staff. She has served as a firm, but diplomatic, visionary in all phases of Effat's development. Notably, Mount Holyoke faculty members and administrators played a consultative role in Effat's development, and ties continue between the two schools today through their participation in Women's Education Worldwide, a global consortium of women's colleges.

Clare Waterman '89, currently chief of the Laboratory of Cell and Tissue Morphodynamics at the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, has demonstrated her originality and intellectual capabilities as a scientist by conducting exploratory research in cell biology for some 16 years. Her lifelong dedication to science has been recognized with several prestigious awards, including the 2007 Sackler International Prize in Biophysics from Tel Aviv University, for young scientists who have made outstanding and fundamental contributions in their fields, and the 2006 R.R. Bensley Award from the American Association of Anatomists, for innovation in molecular microscopy and contributions to the understanding of dynamics in cell motility. She also received one of the 13 NIH Director’s Pioneer Awards granted in 2005. In addition, Waterman’s groundbreaking research has resulted in the publication of more than 60 articles in scholarly journals and an equal number of invitations to speak at conferences and symposia.

Related Links:

Office of the President

President of Ireland