Smith College inaugurates McCartney as 11th leader
By ERIC GOLDSCHEIDER
Gazette Contributing Writer
Daily Hampshire Gazette, Saturday, October 19, 2013
(Published in print: Monday, October 21, 2013)
NORTHAMPTON — Smith College president Kathleen McCartney presented a four-point agenda for the years ahead in her inaugural speech to nearly 3,000 guests and well-wishers attending an elaborate series of events Saturday to celebrate her installation as the school’s new leader.
More people, including her 91-year-old father, looked on from afar through a webcast of the ceremony.
“First, we will embrace our mission as a women’s college,” McCartney said. “Gender biases, still prevalent in our culture, are internalized by women and men alike.”
Expanding the college’s global reach, examining the role of technology in the future of learning, and minimizing economic barriers to education will be her other priorities, she pledged.
The address was the highlight of a day that included panel discussions, an inaugural lunch, a bagpipe procession and a theatrical performance. Among those who introduced McCartney from a podium in the cavernous Indoor Track and Tennis facility were Drew Gilpin Faust, president of Harvard University, where McCartney served as dean of the graduate school of education before coming to Smith last summer.
Mount Holyoke College President Lynn Pasquerella noted that she and McCartney are both in the first generation of their families to attend college.
The festivities began with a processional of faculty and honored guests to the accompaniment of Verdi’s “Hymn and Triumphal March,” performed by the Smith College Orchestra. Before the invocation, children from the Smith Campus School sang the Beatles song “All You Need is Love.”
More than 100 delegates from colleges and universities from around the United States and a few other countries attended the event.
McCartney began her academic career as a developmental psychologist whose research focused on early childhood development.
She spoke of the importance of struggle, and even failure, in the learning process. “Frustration motivates us — we try to reduce frustration, and in so doing we learn,” she said.
The title of her speech, “Busy Being Born,” she said, came from a line in a Bob Dylan song that suggests a person who is “not busy being born is busy dying.” McCartney said what she takes away from that message is that “for Dylan, birth is a continuous process of transformation, of learning; we give birth to ourselves as we change.”
The challenges of “the widening gap between rich and poor students,” global consciousness, and rapidly changing technologies all call for educational leaders to embrace innovation, she said.
“Colleges and universities today are in the early stages of a grand pedagogical experiment,” she said. “At its core is this question: How, when and in what contexts does technology enhance learning?”
McCartney said making sure a Smith education remains accessible to women from diverse financial backgrounds will be part of her commitment to expanding opportunity.
At Smith, 17 percent of students are, “like me, the first in their families to go to college,” she said. “Support of these students is a shared commitment and a proud value that I will uphold.”
Smith trustees Chairwoman Elizabeth Mugar Eveillard, who graduated from Smith in 1969, said the installation of Smith’s 11th president marks “a new beginning” for the school.
Alexandra Keller, professor of film studies at Smith, said McCartney, whom she called “not your usual college president,” believes in “never ceasing to be a student of what you lead.”
She said McCartney has the qualifications to succeed in a rapidly changing world.
“The future of higher education will never again be business as usual,” Keller said.
Several speakers, including McCartney, made reference to Malala Yousafzai, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who has gained international fame for speaking out on the importance of educating women in spite of being shot in the head and neck by the Taliban a year ago because of her activism.
Faust, Harvard’s president, said “what we see as a fundamental right” is still “a perilous aspiration” for many women and girls around the world.
She called education “the civil rights issue of our time.”
McCartney quoted from a speech Yousafzai gave at the United Nations last July in which she said, “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”
After the inauguration, Eliza Mongeau, a Smith sophomore majoring in anthropology and Italian studies, said McCartney’s speech was “pretty mind-blowing, inspirational and amazing.”
In keeping with McCartney’s interest in early childhood education, the evening entertainment to cap off a day of celebration was a new musical called “The Doll People” by Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner based on the children’s novel by Ann M. Martin, a 1977 Smith graduate, and Laura Godwin.
“We celebrate the courage to explore the world in all its wonder,” McCartney said. “We will encounter frustrations in our path, moments of disequilibrium. These moments are gifts. These moments are opportunities. These moments afford the change that is learning.”
View photos of the inauguration here (subscription required).