An Oratorical Farewell: Seniors Gather for 2007 Baccalaureate Service

Posted: May 27, 2007

At 9 pm, under the glow of lampposts, seniors in caps and gowns waited on the lawn in front of Abbey Chapel. Standing two abreast, their ranks stretched toward Mary Lyon's gravesite where, almost 12 hours earlier and dressed in white, they had draped garlands of laurel. Now, the day that had begun with a celebratory parade was concluding with another beloved Mount Holyoke tradition. The baccalaureate service, which reflects the medieval European custom of presenting bachelor (bacca) degree candidates with laurels (lauri) of sermonic oration, dates back to 1875 at the College.

After the seniors processed into the chapel filled with family and friends, the service began with a blessing offered by Anita Magovern, Catholic student advisor and chaplain to the College. A greeting from President Joanne V. Creighton followed. "You have a special place in my heart, class of '07 in this, the 170th year of this institution," said Creighton. "You have made Mount Holyoke stronger with your energy, your good spirits, and your hard work…. I hope during your time here that you have connected your education to your passions."

Vidya Sampath '07, an international relations major from Bangalore, India, then took the podium to read "Look to This Day," an ancient Sanskrit poem which contemplates the value of "today well lived." After her reading, the 2007 Commencement Choir, under the direction of Kimberly Dunn, interim choral director and visiting lecturer in music, performed "You Are the New Day." The choir, which included 32 seniors in their final Mount Holyoke performance, was accompanied by pianist and Professor of Music Larry Schipull.

Student speaker Diana M. Pho '07, (see link below) an English and Russian literature and culture major from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, then presented her baccalaureate address. She reminded her classmates of the ghosts that have surrounded them during their four years on campus. "Beside our founder Mary Lyon… the people from the past exist in the names of the building we know: Mary E. Woolley, Betty Shabazz, Cornelia M. Clapp, Emma Perry Carr, Alice Withington Rooke," she said. "But ghosts also walk alongside us through campus…these are the ghosts of memories. They exist not for us, but for the thousands of other women who have passed through this campus." The class of 2007, Pho noted, also has been leaving behind the ghosts of their own memories. She concluded: "The years spent here will never change or fade or grow old for us. And neither will the impact Mount Holyoke has had on our lives."

Following Pho's speech, Elizabeth Young, (see link below) associate professor of English and gender studies, spoke to the graduating seniors. Young said that her instructions were to address the question "What can our class do differently from other classes to take a road less traveled?--without quoting Robert Frost." In response, Young encouraged the graduates "not to worry so much" about the less traveled road. She explained, "For some roads, I want to underscore, are well traveled for good reasons, and they should be even more well traveled than they are. And some roads should be traveled in new ways, by new people--namely, by you, the Mount Holyoke class of 2007." In particular, she urged the students to fully travel the roads of politics by voting and running for office, as well as the roads of arts and culture. In closing, Young said, "As you leave Park Street and Morgan Street and 116 and all the other roads that got you here, remember the women who traveled them before you, who have gone on to reimagine and remake the world." The final baccalaureate speaker was Siraj Dean Ahmed, assistant professor of English. In his address, Ahmed spoke not about success, which often hinges on others' definitions of accomplishment, but rather about defeat. He encouraged the seniors to be willing to acknowledge that failure is part of the human experience and may, at times, reflect a refusal to play by the rules of others.

The evening concluded with words from Gulsum Gurbuz, Muslim student advisor and chaplain to the College. And then to the strains of Bach, the class of 2007 recessed out of Abbey Chapel and into their last night as Mount Holyoke students.

Related Links:

Baccalaureate Address
By Elizabeth Young, associate professor of English and gender studies

Baccalaureate Address
By Diana Pho '07

Baccalaureate Address
By Siraj Ahmed, assistant professor of English

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