McAleese to MHC Grads: "The World Needs You"

Posted: May 24, 2009

Allan Jurkowski knew it was going to be a lucky day when he found a four-leaf clover in the grass as his daughter, Jillian Jurkowski FP '09, posed for family photos before lining up for the commencement procession.

"The president of Ireland is here, and this is like a shamrock--for good luck," he said, presenting the clover to Jillian.

Jurkowski was among 594 women receiving degrees from Mount Holyoke College in Gettell Amphitheater Sunday. With a "possibility of thundershowers" predicted for the morning, even commencement speaker Mary McAleese, the president of Ireland, praised "the weather committee" for providing unexpectedly sunny blue skies.

When as a teenager she announced she wanted to become a lawyer, McAleese recalled being told, "You can't because you're a woman."

"Women dwell in possibility thanks to institutions like Mount Holyoke, which simply would not accept the tyranny of those words," said McAleese, whose visit to western Massachusetts was arranged with the support of U.S. Rep. Richard Neal. "For centuries our world has tried to fly with one wing, and it has not been a pretty sight as it struggled with the downstream consequences of wasting the talent and potential of that other wing, the women of the world."

While much progress has been made in the United States and Ireland, McAleese said we are "still in the opening chapters" of the story, with substantial work remaining here and in countries where women continue to be denied equal rights--especially in today's economic downturn. Women, "who are already paid less," are more likely to be affected in this economy, she said, and "it is girls who often get pulled out of school first when family finances are reduced.”

"You've got a lot of work to do," she told the graduates. Citing MHC founder Mary Lyon's charge to "Go where no one else will go and do what no one else will do," McAleese said, "The truth is, there are so many new places the world needs you to go to, and good, humanly uplifting things that will not be done unless you do them."

"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," MHC president Joanne V. Creighton said in presenting an honorary degree to McAleese. "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."

Creighton also presented honorary degrees to Princess Loulwa 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. The princess told the audience this year has been "a source of great pride and joy," as her school has celebrated its tenth anniversary. She has enjoyed "a special friendship" with and support from Mount Holyoke in building Effat University, she said.

"Both of our institutions took the road less traveled and broke ground…. We instill the same pioneering spirit in all who walk through our doors," she said. Encouraging the graduates to strive for justice, to show compassion, and to seek and give knowledge, she added, "Knowledge is freedom."

Waterman told the class of 2009, "You are about to graduate from the premier institution in the United States in terms of the production of women who go on to get higher degrees in the sciences. Not Harvard, not MIT, not even the big number producers like the Big Tens of the Midwest, but little. Old. Mount Holyoke!"

Noting the abundance of groundbreaking biomedical discoveries since her graduation from Mount Holyoke 20 years ago, Waterman had a special message for those graduating with degrees in her field.

"This great biomedical revolution will go down in history as having the same level of impact on our quality of life as did the great Industrial Revolution of the second half of the 1800s," she said. "To all of you in the class of 2009 embarking today on your postgraduate lives, you will enjoy the benefits of this great biomedical revolution as the healthiest, longest living, and, hopefully, happiest and most productive generation ever."

Student speaker Caitlin M. Healey of Manchester, New Hampshire, told her classmates, "Today is a day of stupendous achievement and anxiety and glory and unknowns and triumph…. We will walk out of here today and head in all kinds of crazy and wonderful directions. But we’ll always have this place, this connection, these silly hats, and this moment."

While all of the day's speakers were received with enthusiasm and rewarded with standing ovations, McAleese in particular charmed the audience with her address, her personality, and her brogue. Hannah Ryan '10 said she "loved her accent," but also found the Irish president's address to be "really inspiring." Twin sisters Maria and Geraldine Diaz, both class of 2010, agreed.

"She was very engaging and such a strong speaker," said Maria.

"I found her speech empowering," added Geraldine.

Standing outside the amphitheater beside the grave of MHC founder Mary Lyon, Jan Shillieto, mother of graduate Sadie Shillieto, said she remembered standing in the exact same spot with Sadie and her sisters 20 years ago, when she brought them to the Mount Holyoke campus to enjoy summer children's theatre in the amphitheater. She spoke with the pride voiced by many parents watching their daughters graduate Sunday.

"Never did I imagine we would be back here, and that [Sadie] would be part of such a wonderful institution," Shillieto said.

Related Links:

Commencement Videos

Commencement Address (Audio | Transcript)
Mary McAleese, President of Ireland

Commencement Address (Audio | Transcript)
Clare Waterman ’89

Commencement Address (Audio | Transcript)
Princess Loulwa al-Faisal al Saud

Commencement Address (Audio | Transcript)
Caitlin Healey ’09

Honorary Degree Citation
Mary McAleese, President of Ireland

Honorary Degree Citation
Clare Waterman '89

Honorary Degree Citation
Princess Loulwa al-Faisal al Saud

Class of 2009 Baccalaureate Service

Graduating Seniors Celebrated at Laurel Parade

Commencement 2009 Photo Galleries