Zehra Nabi '11

Sunday, May 22, 2011 - 08:58

Commencement Greetings

Mount Holyoke College: We spent the last four years explaining to acquaintances that no, Mount Holyoke is not actually located on a mountain. And no, it’s not a religious institution. We bought T-shirts and mugs emblazoned with the MHC logo. We even swallowed our pride and affectionately called ourselves Moho. And after fours years of proudly defending the name, we take a look at our diplomas and find out that we are actually graduating from Collegi Montis Holyokensis. If the idea behind using Latin is to make things seem more serious and formal, I have to say it’s really not working. But before we feel too let down, let’s just remember that had it not been for a minor miracle that led Mary Lyon to change her mind, this institution would have been called Pangynaskeia College. But remember, fellow Mohos, that things could still have been a lot worse. We could have been called Smith.

But there is certainly more to a college than its name. This is Mount Holyoke, where faculty and staff frequently lure students to lectures, meetings, and even classes with cookies. This is Mount Holyoke, where you are more likely to find students from Romania and China than from Ohio. This is Mount Holyoke, where class pride is taken to the extent that students will stand up to the administration to retain multicolored OneCards.

I’m not going to stand here and give you all advice. There are people here who can do a far better job than I can. I will not urge you to go out into the world and become agents of change, because I am confident that as Mount Holyoke students we already intend to do so. All I can do is try to recap some of our experiences.

Let’s backtrack to our first days at Mount Holyoke, be it as first-years, Francis Perkins Scholars, or transfer students. One of the activities many of us participated in during Orientation was called Common Ground, and I’d like to try a version of that today. We don’t have to stand up or raise our hands, but let’s just think about how many of us came to college, decided on one major, but then changed our minds, maybe even a couple of times? How many of us longed to live in one of the more popular dorms on the Green only to get a really bad number in the housing lottery? How many of us have run after a PVTA bus, only to be left stranded in Northampton or Amherst in the freezing cold? How many of us have been forced out of the library at 2 am by Public Safety? And how many of us have tried to explain to our parents that grades are merely a social construct?

Our time at Mount Holyoke has provided us with memories of the good, bad, stressful, and super-stressful. On the surface, the biology major who was on the swim team has little in common with the French major who spent junior year in Paris and worked in the Art Museum. But we share a lot more with each other than it may seem. And if you don’t believe me, I challenge you to find a non-Mount Holyoke student who can understand the following sentence:

“So I was in Mac-G talking to this FP about her 395 on heteronormativity and the gender binary. And then the SA came running and said that a squirrel is chasing Jorge on the Green. So we called P Safety, but they were busy busting a party in NoJo, so we didn’t know what to do. But then we found out that a bunch of crazy firsties just made that up. So we went for M & Cs, but all they had were carrot sticks, and I was really craving a Chef Jeff. But the HP said there was a lecture in Hooker for prospies, and they had leftover cookies, so a bunch of us ran over, and that’s when we bumped into the cape-girls howling at the full moon.”

This particular Mount Holyoke vernacular might not sound as sophisticated as Latin or even normal English. But it is this common language that binds us together and will allow us to reconnect with each other in the years to come.

But today isn’t just any other day at Mount Holyoke and I must be a little more formal than usual. So in the spirit of using Latin at commencement, I say to our sisters at Smith: in vestri visio. Or as we might say in English, “In your face.” To UMass: Veni, Vidi, Vodka. For Amherst, I’m simply going to restate their college motto, “terras irradient.” Now for those of us not as well-versed in Latin as I am, “terras” means Earth, and “irradient” means to shine. Therefore, when you put them together, “terras irradient” means global warming. And for Hampshire: Well, I didn’t know how to Google translate “good-bye my organic food and hemp-loving, radical, crusader friends” to Latin, but I think you get the idea. However, I must acknowledge that while we Five College students love to make jokes at each other’s expense, this sibling rivalry of sorts is harmless (well, usually) and that once outside the Pioneer Valley, we will fiercely defend each other from detractors.

But while graduating might be exciting, leaving Mount Holyoke is a bittersweet experience. We will all miss the faculty who pushed us to think critically and creatively, and who often treated us more like fellow scholars than students. We will miss the staff who worked behind the scenes tirelessly and made this place a home for us. We will look back and fondly remember the classrooms and dorms, the chefs in Blanchard, and the librarians in LITS. We will remember the countless emails about GREs and JP Morgan the CDC sent out every day. And we will painfully recall that one semester our junior year when nearly half the campus was in quarantine because of the swine flu epidemic. We will take different memories with us, but each of us will be forever in debt to Mount Holyoke for these experiences. And when I say debt, I mean that literally. Some of our friends might drift away, but Student Financial Services will certainly be in touch with us for years to come.

It’s time for me to end my speech now, and a student commencement speech would be incomplete without a quote by Emily Dickinson, renowned poet and our most famous dropout: In a poem about being a poet, she wrote, “I dwell in possibility.” Not all of us graduating today are poets. But sitting here wearing these funny hats and clutching sunflowers in our hands, we all certainly do dwell in much possibility.

Thank you.

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