President Lynn Pasquerella

Tuesday, September 6, 2011 - 17:53

Convocation Address
September 6, 2011

Welcome everyone! I am so thrilled to have all of us together today as we greet our new faculty and staff and celebrate the matriculation of the class of 2015, along with our new transfer students and Frances Perkins scholars, and welcome back the spectacular senior class of 2012, our fabulous junior class of 2013, and my first-ever firsties, who are now already sophomores—the class of 2014. This year, many of our student athletes and Orientation leaders were moving in as we were watching the predictions of the path to be taken by Hurricane Irene. And while we all anxiously waited to see what impact our uninvited guest might have on our move-in and Orientation activities, for me, it was an occasion to be grateful, once again, for the hundreds of staff, faculty, and student leaders who care for this community in both ordinary and extraordinary circumstances. Would you join me in applauding their efforts?

Convocation is the official kickoff of the academic year. It signifies a renewed commitment to community, and of course, you, our students, are at the center of the Mount Holyoke community. I look forward to meeting every one of you throughout the year and talking to you about your aspirations and experiences at Mount Holyoke. Each day, I meet women who inspire me, like every one of the speakers last night at Intersections. Whether I am walking across our beautiful campus here in South Hadley, or talking with alumnae whose homes are oceans away, I encounter women whose example energizes me and increases my own pride as an alumna of this remarkable institution. I could select anyone of these Mount Holyoke women to cite as an illustration of what makes our College truly distinctive; however, one of the most powerful lessons I learned recently about the value of a Mount Holyoke education came from a woman who never had the opportunity to receive one.

This summer, the College received a $1.2M gift for student scholarships from someone who had been accepted to Mount Holyoke, yet was unable to attend due to her financial circumstances. This woman completed her college degree elsewhere and went on to achieve significant success in her career, but her lingering disappointment at what might have been motivated a gift that will serve countless students. The generosity of one who regarded Mount Holyoke as the ultimate educational privilege was the result of a dream deferred, a dream that has now been placed in your hands. You have an exceptional amount of choice in how you live this dream, and I challenge you to live it with the same regard for the opportunity that was evident in the woman who gave us this gift. Many of you have sacrificed personally and have benefitted from the sacrifice of family and friends in order to say "yes" to Mount Holyoke's invitation. We are genuinely grateful to have you as members of our community, and I know that you come with your own awareness of the privilege of this place and this experience.

Another woman who inspired me this summer was also responding to a dream deferred. How many of you followed the news of American marathon swimmer Diana Nyad, the 61-year old who attempted for the second time to swim 103 miles from Cuba to Florida? For those of you who don't know this story, Diana Nyad is a marathon swimmer, renowned for her record-setting swims when she was at the height of her career in the 1970s. Nyad's world records included a 1975 swim around Manhattan in under eight hours and a 102.5-mile swim from Bimini to Florida in 1979. Despite these accomplishments in her chosen athletic field, Diana carried with her the disappointment of her incomplete attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida in 1978, and she woke up in midlife with a dream many regarded as quixotic. She would attempt the swim again, and this time she would finish.

Diana's dream was personal, yet she also felt compelled to attempt the swim to inspire in others a more expansive and imaginative vision for their lives. She wanted people—particularly people her age—to recognize that their capacity to achieve is intimately connected to their capacity to dream, to be innovators in their own lives. Fast-forward through a couple of years of preparation, fundraising, and grueling endurance workouts designed to simulate the challenge ahead, and you see Diana, jumping off the rocks in Havana, Cuba, on August 7, swimming in the glassy ocean, looking from one country's shores to another, without the protection of a shark cage.

So far, this story has been about an individual--her dream, her preparation, her sacrifice, her quest. But in reality, no individual's dream takes shape in isolation. Diana prepared and trained with a team, and when she jumped into the water that morning in August, she was surrounded by more than 30 individuals--some reports indicate as many as 50--who were charged with unique and critical roles in support of Diana. She had handlers, navigators, drivers, medical personnel, documentarians, cheerleaders, and--my favorite--shark detractors. Diana was in charge, and she was the decision maker at every crucial moment, yet she had a band of friends and supporters around her who provided essential assistance at each stroke of her monumental swim.

Your dive into the waters of Mount Holyoke is not unlike Diana's swim. You are here because you have a dream-some of you are here to fulfill an educational dream deferred, and others of you have arrived with the confidence of youth. You are the leader of your experience here. Nevertheless, you, too, have a highly coordinated, qualified, and motivated team around you, prepared at any moment to offer insights and assistance. Some of the responsibilities managed by this team will be invisible to you, though I challenge you to look for the people and the tasks which often go unnoticed. Others will be quite obvious to you, and you will likely leave your Mount Holyoke years with gratitude for those who have partnered with you in securing your dream. I want to remind you of this team today, not only because I want to recognize their extraordinary efforts in responding to our unusual and challenging opening circumstances, but also because I know there will be days when you will feel alone in these waters. The waves will threaten to overtake you at times, and unexpected challenges will lurk in your path, but we are in the boat beside you. Some of you arrived here alone. Others of you have come as members of strong and valued family networks. Today, you have all entered into a community of women that extends all the way around the world, and we are here to cheer you on at every mile of your own remarkable swim. Don't hesitate to call on me any time along your journey.

 (Note: This printed text may vary from the speech delivered.)