Mount Holyoke College cheers in the new term.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015 - 5:00pm
The class of 2019 cheers at convocation.

By Keely Savoie

Students costumed in their class colors came in all forms, from a giant blue jellyfish and glittery green mermaids to Mary Lyon herself. They gathered Tuesday for the beginning of a new academic year at Mount Holyoke College.

Amidst the drumming of the MHC West African Music Ensemble, the Gettell Amphitheater resounded to the ebullient cheering of the assembled students, faculty, and staff. President Lynn Pasquerella took the stage to issue a hearty welcome to the incoming class of more than 550 first-year and transfer students and 35 Frances Perkins Scholars, representing 41 states and 33 countries.

“We’ve missed you,” she said. “A college campus without students is like peanut butter without jelly … or Lower Lake without Jorge!”

Invoking the College’s beginnings as a women’s seminary where students were expected to contribute to the domestic work of the College to keep costs down, Pasquerella announced that this year begins another phase of communal work at the College. Today’s work is of a different sort than in the early days, when students were charged with washing dishes, ironing, and stacking firewood.

“We all bear responsibility for this wonderful place. We are all needed to keep Mount Holyoke strong,” said Pasquerella, announcing that this year the College will develop a strategic plan that will shape its trajectory from 2016 to 2020.

“We need your good ideas, your creativity, your keen listening, your ability to synthesize and sift through opinions,” she said. “We need your best thoughts on how to make this extraordinary liberal arts college even greater.”

The last strategic plan resulted in the Lynk initiative, which connects students’ curricular work to career preparation. For example, the Lynk subsidizes unpaid internships—that are substantive and relevant—so that all students have the same opportunity to develop career skills while in school. To date, the Lynk program has funded nearly $1.5 million in internships for Mount Holyoke students, increasing the number of internships completed by MHC students by one third.

Citing recent research from Purdue University that found that faculty attention, career development, cocurricular involvement, and sustained academic projects were key to career success, Pasquerella noted Mount Holyoke’s significant investment in each.

“I know firsthand that Mount Holyoke excels when it comes to these criteria,” she said. “But we always need to ask ourselves, ‘what can we do better?’”

Associate Professor of English Amy Martin added her own twist to the theme: she urged students to show their work, and to embrace the process. Quoting author Kiese Laymon, who will speak at the College later this year, Martin reminded the assembly that there is “mad work to be done,” but said that the process of doing it is as important as the end result.

“There is so much work to be done,” she said to the crowd of applauding students. “Go do it!”

Kathleen Pertzborn, assistant dean of faculty and cochair of Staff Council, reminded the audience of the responsibility they bear to one another as part of the community.

“Even after graduation, it will be your responsibility to treat each other with love and respect, to be honest with one another, and to rise to the challenge of belonging to a very special class of women—the venerable, formidable alumnae of Mount Holyoke College,” she said.

Incoming senior and new Student Government Association president, Courtney Brunson ’16, closed the speeches, exhorting students on the brink of the new year to find the courage to follow their passions, forgive themselves, rely on others, and be role models by “living life to the fullest.”

“Run with it,” she told them. “Don’t look back—and fearlessly choose your own journey.”

The ceremony closed with the Mount Holyoke College Convocation Choir leading the assembly in singing “Alma Mater.” Then the exhilarated crowd dispersed to begin the new year with a celebratory picnic lunch before getting down to the work ahead.

• Read President Pasquerella's whole speech here

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