Tamar Spitz Westphal ‘12

Sunday, May 20, 2012 - 13:10

Student Address

Suzan-Lori Parks, esteemed playwright from the class of 1985, had these words for our alma mater: “Mount Holyoke women rule, baby...There’s something in the water.” After four years here, I have to agree. Had I been asked during my first week on campus, I would have agreed even then.

In a recent conversation with my aunt, I tried to explain how much I was dreading the days after commencement, when my friends would disperse all over the world.

“All over the world?” she asked. “Really?”

In the coming days we will fan out across the globe: Lagos, Delhi, San Francisco, Berlin, Karachi, New York, Beijing, Chicago—the list goes on. This weekend is a celebration of our accomplishments thus far and marks the commencement of our future, but it is also a time to savor what we have here and now—what we have built together in the great big, bustling world of South Hadley.

We came as first-years, transfers, and Frances Perkins Scholars; dancers, painters, and runners; activists and avid readers; bloggers, knitters, and aspiring physicists. We brought our music, our questions, our dreams, our stuffed animals, and our boundless enthusiasm.

In November of our first year, Barack Obama was elected president. Hope and change were in the air. Through our Mount Holyoke journeys, how have we changed and what do we hope for? The first time most of us sat in these seats together was at our first convocation: decked out in blue, with no idea what to expect, and with everything we had brought with us still waiting to be unpacked. Then we were the firsties with lanyards who expected to find molecular biologists in Kendall and Zumba classes in Kendade. Today, we are here as the honorees. After dedicating thousands of hours to our studies, internships, jobs, teams, performing ensembles, philosophical debates, and Facebook updates, we have finally replaced the blue lanyards with black caps and gowns.

The Princeton Review has let everyone in on a secret that we have known all along: Mount Holyoke has the best classroom experience. However, it is what happens outside of the classroom that truly sets us apart…and brings us together. Who else, but this odd species of Mohos, would grumble about going on strike because a certain college president was taking too long to cancel classes so that we could wake up early to climb a mountain and eat ice cream? Who else has experienced the sheer terror evoked by the Prospect dining hall at 12:16 pm? How many colleges can count “heteropatriarchal,” “problematic,” and “social construct” among the most popular words on campus? Together, we have slept in the library, assured the health center that we are not pregnant (we just need an ice pack), and made sure that everyone knows that we are from Mount Holyoke, not that other college across the river.

Looking around us today, we are surrounded by the smiling faces of those who helped us get to this point. Where would we be without the professors who challenged us, encouraged us, and often worked with us as scholars, not simply students? We would have gotten nowhere without the fabulous staff members who ensured the success of everything from local vegan-friendly meals, to Chapin parties with bubble machines. And, of course, our families—the ones we came with and the larger, chosen ones with whom we leave.

So what is it that’s in the water here? Besides invasive turtles, canoes full of raucous singing, and one extremely loud and unruly goose? There is passion here. There is solidarity. There is drive to change the world. There is also humor. Some of my favorite memories here are of laughter: the times when I met someone new—from a completely different background, whose interests and languages were different than mine—who had the same sense of humor. Those are true Mount Holyoke moments: when we connect with each other unexpectedly and irrevocably, whether we are falling out of our chairs giggling in the middle of the library, or standing together to fight for social justice.

President Pasquerella frequently reminds us of Mount Holyoke’s core value of purposeful engagement in the world. I cannot think of a graduating class more engaged, engaging, and inspiring, and I am overjoyed and humbled to be standing among you. I am so excited to see where we go from here. We have the immense privilege of a Mount Holyoke education, worth so much more than a résumé boost. We have learned to be critical thinkers, innovative researchers, and compassionate, determined individuals. In case anyone needs further proof of the value of a Mount Holyoke degree, I know Student Financial Services will be happy to remind us all of how much debt we have.

In classrooms and cultural centers, in the tower room and the No Study Zone bouncy castle, we have dialogued with, questioned, and supported one another. There have been moments of friction and Moho hugs, full of screaming and jumping up and down joy. We have taught and learned from one another. Every day, we find new ways of engaging with the world and take steps to effect change in our communities, both next-door and around the globe. My hope is that we continue to do that—that we bring our dedication and passion through the world with us every day. We have been primed to become the leaders of tomorrow, and I have no doubt that we will rise to the occasion. Indeed, we are already stepping up as the leaders of today.

Thank you.