Morgan Gives Baccalaureate Address

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 - 11:54

Lynn Morgan, Mary E. Woolley Professor of Anthropology and Chair of Gender
Studies

Good evening, President Pasquerella, trustees, honored guests, parents, friends, families, and the class of 2012.

This weekend we celebrate your many accomplishments in the classrooms, recital halls, studios, and on the playing fields. In the midst of such rejoicing, you may not realize how profoundly you have honored me by choosing this year to elect me as your baccalaureate speaker. 2012 marks my 25th year of teaching at Mount Holyoke. My son and daughter spent the earliest years of their lives on this campus, taking afternoon walks around Lower Lake and up to the stables, where we fed apples to the horses. Sometimes, on school vacation days, my kids would come to class and draw quietly on the blackboard while I tried to keep the students focused on anthropology. My kids are adults now. This week my youngest child also graduates from college, so your graduation has a special, personal resonance in my life.

This coincidence between your biography and mine lets me imagine that I know you perhaps better than I do, because I can imagine you growing up. I can imagine you as a brave and intrepid toddler, just old enough to feed the ducks in front of Prospect. I imagine you in primary school, when you learned to read and I saw the look of wonder on your face. You were constantly asking someone to read you a story. So tonight, if you’ll indulge a little maternal sentimentality, I’d like to tell you a story.

It’s based on a book by Laura Numeroff called, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Perhaps you know it. It begins with these words, “If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk.” Even if you don’t know the book, you can guess how it unfolds, as one thing leads to another for a busy little mouse. think the story has possibilities, so I’ve adapted for tonight’s occasion. My version is called, “If We Give a MoHo a Cookie.” It goes like this:

“If we give a MoHo a cookie, she’s going to ask for a glass of milk.” As we head toward the refrigerator, she’ll ask us whether we realize that humans are the only animals that routinely drink the milk of another species. She’ll wonder aloud whether the famous Mount Holyoke tradition of “milk and cookies” was predicated on the ethnocentric assumption that everyone should have the biological capacity to digest milk. She’ll point out that most of the world’s population stops producing lactase, the milk-digesting enzyme, after weaning, and she’ll explain that these days “M & Cs” might just as easily refer to carrots and hummus or chips and salsa. She’ll note that some people prefer to abstain from eating animal products in the interests of environmental sustainability. She’ll ask whether we’ve noticed that this year’s graduating class is made up of MoHos from 44 different countries and that many of them didn’t grow up drinking milk or eating cookies! Then she’ll ask, politely, whether we have any nondairy beverage options available.

“When we give her a tall glass of ice-cold soy milk, she’ll want to look in a mirror to make sure she doesn’t have a soy-milk moustache. When she looks into the mirror, she might notice that her hair needs a trim. So she’ll probably ask for a pair of scissors.” When she’s finished giving herself a trim, we might notice that she’s shaved only the right side of her head. She’ll explain that the asymmetrical hairstyle was inspired by Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Gender is not a stable biological category, she’ll explain, contrary to what she believed before she took Gender Studies 101. She will ask what we think about gender dimorphism, and she’ll suggest that gender might be the effect of treating it as a stable category. This is heavy stuff, and three hours later we’re still deep in conversation about the intersecting oppressions of race, class, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. She reminds us that this historic class started college the year that Obama was elected, and graduates in the very month that the President of the United States announced his support for marriage equality. She’ll conclude, politely but pointedly, that her haircut is a statement calculated to destabilize the gender binary.

“When the conversation is over, she’ll probably want to take a rest.” She’ll wander into Abbey Chapel. As the darkness closes around her, she’ll realize that she is surrounded by other MoHos – some excited and fidgeting, others sitting in quiet contemplation. Thinking back over what she has learned, she realizes that they have cultivated similar traits in one another: boundless curiosity, a passion for justice, respect for diverse ways of knowing, and a penchant for raising their voices – in affirmation, in protest, and in song. She loves knowing so much about biological variation and gender theory, of course, but more than anything else she appreciates her deep thirst for knowledge.

And, knowing a metaphor when she sees one, she realizes that she is thirsty, so she’ll ask for a glass of milk. And chances are if she asks for a glass of milk, she’s going to want a cookie to go with it.

Graduates, tonight we are bursting with pride. You have taught us so much, and you have our everlasting respect, affection, and admiration for what you have done and for what you will do. We love you, we will miss you, and we will always be here for you. Please call on us if you ever need a story, or a cookie.