Mary Mazzio—lawyer, Olympic athlete, documentary filmmaker, founder and CEO of an independent film production company called 50 Eggs (think Cool Hand Luke), generous mentor to many and especially to women and girls who rightly look up to you—you are a spectacular answer to a question that might be nagging at some graduates, and one or two parents: what do you do with a Mount Holyoke philosophy major?
For starters, you went to Georgetown University Law School, travelled to Korea on a Henry Luce Foundation Fellowship and to France on a Rotary Foundation Fellowship, became a partner with the law firm of Brown Rudnick in Boston, and rowed in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. And then you left your solid legal career for film school. Asked in a Forbes interview how you managed to take such a risk, you replied, “I played sports as a kid.” Building on those three passions—law, athletics, and film—you have built a career, a company, and a filmography of probing depth, expansive reach, enormous impact, great acclaim, and contagious joy.
Your first film, A Hero for Daisy (1999), chronicles a 1976 protest by Chris Ernst and her fellow Yale crew team members to campaign for women’s locker room facilities. You followed up with Apple Pie in 2002, about extraordinary athletes and their mothers, featuring, among others, Mia Hamm and Shaquille O’Neal. Your 2004 film Lemonade Stories looks at entrepreneurs and their mothers, and your 2009 documentary TEN9EIGHT (2009) follows inner-city teens who enter a nationwide business plan competition, discovering entrepreneurship and much about themselves along the way. Your 2011 release The Apple Pushers follows five immigrant pushcart vendors who are rolling fresh fruits and vegetables into the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. Through the lens of their powerful stories, the film examines immigration, entrepreneurship, and inner-city food deserts.
Lest we think we have you pegged, you will soon release your newest film, Contrarian, examining the life of legendary investor and philanthropist John Templeton, who made his fortune and then worked to bring together the world’s brightest scientists and theologians—groups not normally brought together—to seek answers to the world’s oldest questions. As Templeton himself said, and as your own work powerfully exemplifies: “How little we know, how eager to learn.”
For your boundless eagerness to learn and to document, Mount Holyoke is proud to bestow upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa.
Hello Mount Holyoke! I am so delighted to be back here and so honored to be part of this celebration with you, the Class of 2013; parents, faculty, staff, trustees, and of course, my pals from the Class of 1983.
This, my friends, is where everything starts and ends for me. I came here in the fall of 1979, armed with blue eye shadow and a curling iron. And not much else. It was Mount Holyoke that taught me to have a voice. And to use it. Loudly. It was at Mount Holyoke where I was allowed to fail and fail miserably. To push the boundaries of what might be possible. To never give up. To discover that failure is not an end, but a beginning. It was at Mount Holyoke where I learned that life is short—that you have to live hard, love hard, and make every day count.
Mount Holyoke also encouraged me to be a better person—to be part of something bigger. A team. A community. With people who looked out for each other. People who became your champions. Your Guardian Angels.
For me, those people include Tom Adams, Mount Holyoke’s rowing coach who did not cut me from the team when I came in last… and I mean DFL last, on the mile run around Upper Lake during tryouts my freshman year. Or Vinnie Ferraro, professor of international politics, who pushed us to think beyond ourselves, beyond our capabilities, about how to tackle the urgent problems of the world. Or Pat Waters, the head of financial aid, and her entire team, who made it possible for me to attend Mount Holyoke, when I had less than $50 dollars to my name and had little idea how close I was to never seeing the inside of a college.
So you see, I am forever indebted to Mount Holyoke and to Mary Lyon herself. And to all of you who make up this incredible community—who ignite the ability to dream big and work hard. Who inspire us to refuse to take no for an answer. To have the courage to fail. But then insist that we pick ourselves up and try again. So that when we leave the gates of Mount Holyoke, we are ready to see the world, understand it, and take it on. Because that, my friends, is what Mount Holyoke College is all about.
Dream a little. Sweat a lot.
(Note: This printed text may vary from the speech delivered.)