MHC Celebrates Inauguration of Lynn Pasquerella

At her inauguration as Mount Holyoke College's eighteenth president, Lynn Pasquerella expressed her hopes to bring the College's work to new heights and build upon Mary Lyon's bold vision for women in the world. The September 24 event brought together students, faculty, staff, alumnae, dignitaries—as well as Pasquerella's family and friends—for a ceremony marked as much by joy as tradition.

Held in the Richard Glenn Gettell Amphitheater, the event was part of a three-day celebration honoring Pasquerella's stellar career and advocacy for women worldwide, as well as Mount Holyoke's distinctive history of educating women leaders.

The inauguration began with an academic procession led by Robert Garvey, sherriff of Hampshire County, and College Marshal Linda Laderach, professor of music. The Mount Holyoke College faculty—with Faculty Marshals Paula Debnar, professor of classics, and Nicole Vaget, professor of French, at the fore—processed in full academic regalia, greeted by applause. They were joined by delegates from 125 colleges, universities, and learned societies around the world who, likewise, wore robes, stoles, and mortarboards in a palette of colors and processed in order of founding—from Harvard University (1636) to the Women’s College Coalition (1972).

In addition to faculty and delegates, the procession included members of the College's Board of Trustees and its chair, Mary Graham Davis '65; former chairs of the board of trustees Leslie Anne Miller '73, Eleanor Graham Claus '55, Barbara Margulies Rossotti '61, and Jameson Adkins Baxter '65; the Alumnae Association's board of directors; the board of directors of the Five Colleges; and Mount Holyoke's sixteenth and seventeenth presidents, Elizabeth T. Kennan '60 and Joanne V. Creighton, who both received warm welcomes. Last in line was Pasquerella, a member of Mount Holyoke's class of 1980, smiling broadly at the enthusiastic crowd. As the audience stood and cheered, groups of student athletes waved hand-lettered signs reading "Vball Loves Lynn," "Lyons 4 Lynn," and "Swim and Dive Loves Lynn."

John Grayson, Professor of Religion on the Alumnae Foundation, offered an invocation giving thanks “for this promise of a new beginning.” Next, Mary Graham Davis '65, chair of the Board of Trustees, extended a welcome and introduced Walter Harrison, president of the University of Hartford.

Harrison began his tribute to Pasquerella, his former provost and chief academic officer, by good-naturedly recounting their initial meeting when she left him "speechless" by asserting that she would make a better Major League Baseball commissioner than he would. He then described Pasquerella’s accessibility, boundless energy, active intellectual life, and commitment "to all four constituents of a college community: alumnae, staff, faculty, and students." He also emphasized her strong sense of social justice, noting that "at its very center is her commitment to women's education."

"I especially want to speak to the students for a minute," said Harrison. "Get ready for her to take an active interest in what you do, from classroom to residence hall to student activities to college sports…. She will throw herself into the life of the college."

"Mount Holyoke," he added, "get ready for a great ride."

As is tradition, a series of greetings from various constituencies followed. Karen Remmler, professor of German studies, critical social thought, and gender studies, welcomed Pasquerella on behalf of the faculty. They were welcoming her, Remmler said, "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."

Marija Tesla '11, president of the Student Government Association, speaking on behalf of the College's 2,200 students, also acknowledged Pasquerella's return "back home." She described her classmates' excitement about Pasquerella's presidency and their accounts of Pasquerella's "many acts of kindness."

"You have our admiration and confidence," Telsa said. "And I can't wait to see where you take us next."

David A. Perrault, a painter who has worked with the facilities management department for 38 years, offered greetings from Mount Holyoke's staff. He acknowledged Pasquerella's genuine appreciation and respect for staff throughout the institution. "Many of you who know me know that I'm not normally one short of words," said Perrault. "But I'm running short of superlatives to describe her to my colleagues."

Pasquerella was then greeted—or rather, serenaded—with the premiere of a musical selection for brass quintet and percussion titled "Kulema." Performed by the Omnibus Brass Ensemble, it was composed for the inauguration by David Sanford, associate professor of music. Cynthia L. Reed '80, president of the Alumnae Association, spoke on behalf of Mount Holyoke's "35,000 alumnae on every continent."

"Just as alumnae welcome graduating seniors and then march behind them in solidarity in the Laurel Chain parade, so, too, as we witness this historic occasion in person and online, we join together to march forward with you as you craft the future of our College," said Reed.

Marlene Gerber Fried, acting president of Hampshire College, spoke on behalf of the Five Colleges. Fried, who like Pasquerella is a first-generation college student and earned a doctorate in philosophy from Brown University, outlined the visionary origins of the Five College Consortium. She welcomed Pasquerella to the team of Five College directors and, referencing Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, said, "Lynn, we look forward to working with you on believing and doing the possible and the impossible."

The final greeting to Pasquerella came from State Representative John Scibak (D-MA 2nd Hampshire District) on behalf of Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

"In a state celebrated around the world as a center of learning, Mount Holyoke has helped set the standard for scholarly excellence," said Scibak. "From South Hadley to Boston—and throughout this great state—we salute you and your college on this proud day and look forward to working with you in the months and years ahead. Welcome back."

Following the greetings, the Mount Holyoke College Glee Club performed "Variation on a Theme by Rilke" under the direction of Kimberly Dunn-Adams, lecturer in music, and accompanied by Mark Gionfriddo, director of jazz ensembles.

Then, to rousing cheers, Pasquerella stepped to the podium where Mary Graham Davis, on behalf of the board of trustees, presented her with the traditional symbols marking her investiture as president of the College. Among them was an original key to the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary that was salvaged from the fire that destroyed the building in 1896.

"May its continuing existence be your reminder of the enduring legacy of Mount Holyoke's founder, Mary Lyon," said Graham Davis. "But for her courage, neither we nor Mount Holyoke would be here today celebrating your installation as the president of the oldest institution for the higher education of women in the United States."

Pasquerella then delivered an inaugural address titled "The Promise of Women's Leadership: Uncommon Women for the Common Good." In her speech, Pasquerella considered whether the historic vision founder Mary Lyon had for Mount Holyoke has been fulfilled. She noted the deep paradox between the educational strides women are making in the United States and the circumstances of women around the world, saying, "If we take seriously Mary Lyon's enjoinder to view women's education as inextricably linked to moral purpose, we must look beyond the education of our own students to the education and empowerment of women beyond our own borders. For surely, the nature and scope of abuses inflicted on women globally warrants universal attention."

Pasquerella called upon all those involved in higher education to "exert pressure on those who deny access to education for women."

"We need to overturn those economic structures that reinforce a division of labor in which women and girls spend up to six hours a day gathering water and firewood. We must prevent girls from being subject to harassment from both classmates and teachers because of a sexism that is too frequently reinforced by school officials," she said.

Pasquerella praised Mount Holyoke's achievements, pointing out that by "fostering the alliance of liberal learning with purposeful engagement in the world, we encourage a community of thinkers who understand how to identify and respond to complex problems in an increasingly globally interdependent world."

She continued, "But let me be clear: while we intend to affirm an enduring commitment to promoting academic excellence and the achievement of women in American colleges, we will endeavor to ensure that this is not done in ignorance of, or worse at the expense of, women around the world."

The inauguration concluded with a benediction offered by the Reverend Gladys G. Moore, dean of religious and spiritual life and director of diversity and inclusion. Then, after the singing of the Alma Mater, Pasquerella assumed her place for the recessional. This time, she stood in front of the contingent of faculty, delegates, trustees, and dignitaries. The cheering was loudest of the day, and--fittingly--a soft wind blew down just-turning leaves like confetti.

See the photos from this event in our Flickr gallery.