September 24, 2010
See the video.
On behalf of the faculty, I welcome you back, President Pasquerella, to Mount Holyoke College. We welcome you, Lynn, not as a newcomer, but as a kindred spirit. Your return reminds us once again of the purpose of our profession. You represent the fruits of our labor as teachers, scholars, scientists, artists, coaches, and mentors. Your distinguished record of scholarship, engagement across the globe and in surrounding communities, speaks well of us, though we can hardly take all the credit.
Lynn, even as you are well aware of our eccentricities, you have generously noted our accomplishments. In your letter to the presidential search committee you wrote of how faculty and peers instilled in you a dedication to liberal learning. “Their care for me as a person, their pride in my achievements, and their generosity of spirit are all hallmarks of Mount Holyoke College–symbolic of true liberal education in its ability to traverse the personal and the professional.”
With the faculty, you learned to become a critical thinker and doer. You know firsthand the challenges of women’s education in the twenty-first century. And you understand that this college cannot rest on its laurels, nor can it give in to pressure to sever its ties with its deepest commitments to the liberal arts.
Like you, many of us on the faculty understand the importance of sharing our knowledge with the public at the intersections between the local and the global. We participate in school and town meetings, community groups, and in global summits in person and through virtual media. And we are truly global citizens with ties around the world.
This past summer I taught in Berlin, the city split in two by a wall that represented the aftermath of human brutality in the twentieth century. Twenty-one years ago, the citizens of the former East Germany took to the streets and helped dismantle that wall. Their actions took imagination and civil courage. But bridging the gaps between East and West has proven more difficult than expected.
Here at Mount Holyoke, I am struck by a similar need for new bridges. We need bridges between different cultures, origins, and modes of being, bridges between the past and the present. We need bridges between competing arguments as well, reaching consensus by listening and by creating new ways of doing things.
Individually and as a collective, we know how to sculpt stone, how to decipher ancient texts and human cells, how to expose the stratification of the earth and of society, and how to seek the systemic causes of poverty and of pain.
These tasks require “wild patience.” Mount Holyoke’s own Emily Dickinson once wrote that “water is taught by thirst.” In the midst of great abundance and simultaneous want, thirst can be a metaphor for desire, for our thirst for knowledge, but it is also a measure of sustainable life.
Another Mount Holyoke woman, Frances Perkins, transformed her thirst for knowledge into skills for sustaining life in times of great need. Looking back on her service as the first female U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945, Perkins wrote that the door opened for her might “not be opened to a woman again for a long, long time.” She took it upon herself to “walk in and sit down in the chair that was offered, and so establish the right of others long hence and far distant in geography to sit in high seats.”
Lynn, like other Mount Holyoke women before you, you are taking that seat. As faculty, we owe it to you to step up. And we will. Welcome!
(Note: This printed text may vary from the speech delivered.)