To the class of 2024: Go forth with passion and compassion

Mount Holyoke College President Danielle R. Holley addressed the class of 2024 and reminded them to move forward with passion, compassion, bold curiosity and gratitude.

Good morning, everyone! Hello and welcome! My name is Danielle Holley …

(Chanting, “Free, free Palestine!”)

Okay, we’re back. My name is Danielle Holley. I use she/her pronouns, and I have the honor and privilege of leading Mount Holyoke College. Thank you, Karena, for your inspiring words to our graduates.

Commencements are a joyous occasion with a tinge of bittersweet. Today is no different. It is the graduation many of you and your families have been waiting eight years for. That’s certainly worth a sigh of relief and a round of applause! And today is my first Commencement as Mount Holyoke’s president and I am overjoyed to be here with you. Yet it’s also the last time all of us will be together …

(Several again erupt chanting, “Free, free Palestine!”)

Okay. Hi, everyone. All right. (Amid continuing chants of, “Free, free Palestine!”) Let me, let me take a moment and say thank you for raising your voices. We know how important this moment is, to many of you, it is an opportunity to be able to raise your voices for a cause that you believe deeply in. This class, many of you, this is your first graduation. You weren't able to experience your high school graduation. And so my hope is that the ceremony will focus on the graduates for today and allow every graduate to be able to have this experience for themselves with their friends and family.

This is a time when many of us won’t be together again for some time, and it's also Karena’s last Commencement as board chair. Mount Holyoke and the world have gone through some tumultuous times over the past four years. We have weathered a global pandemic. We’ve seen landmark Supreme Court rulings that have rolled back reproductive and racial justice advances. And as you’ve heard from our students raising their voices today, we continue to navigate a heated geopolitical atmosphere and war in the Middle East. And on campus, we have literally been struck by lightning. Yes, we were actually struck by lightning in one of our dorms. And of course, we’ve experienced a number of leadership transitions, including, as Midge reminded us last night, three presidents in your four years here. Karena has been constant through these challenging times, and we have thrived. Thank you, Karena, for your exceptional leadership as chair of the Board of Trustees.

This moment is a year in the making for me and I attended the Mount Holyoke Commencement ceremony last year as your president-elect. And I’ve been thinking about addressing all of you ever since. First thing to say, given how long you’ve had to wait and how hard you’ve worked to be here right now, I encourage you to live in this moment and enjoy every second of this. And the same goes for your family and friends; celebrate your students’ journeys at Mount Holyoke, and relish all that it took to arrive at this moment. And while we’re at it, graduates, let’s celebrate the people whose love and encouragement inspired you to pursue your passions and whose care and support helped you along your Mount Holyoke journey. Please join me in giving your family and friends a huge round of applause!

And let’s take a moment to learn more about the graduates’ Mount Holyoke experience. Graduates, please stand as you’re able or raise your hand if: you volunteered, held an internship, did independent research, researched with a faculty member, or participated in community-based learning. If you did any of those things, stand if you’re able or raise your hand. Wow! That’s almost the entire class.

Stand if you studied abroad. Stand if you’re an international student.

Many of you worked your way all the way through Mount Holyoke. How many of you had a job while you were here on campus?

How many of you networked with alums or visited with the Career Development Center? You should stand. Your families are watching.

Please stand or remain standing if you took a class at Mount Holyoke that was an unfamiliar subject and you fell in love with it. All right, you may be seated.

Now that we know a little bit more about our graduates, as you can see, they are truly remarkable. Let’s recognize also the critical role that the Mount Holyoke College faculty play in the accomplishments that you have achieved.

The education that you have gained under their guidance will serve as a foundation and a critical foundation for your future. The excellence of our faculty, their scholarship, their dedication to students and their love of teaching is truly unmatched. Graduates, if you have been inspired or mentored by a professor, please give our faculty, who are right over there and up here on the stage, a huge round of applause.

We are also so thankful for the Mount Holyoke staff who helped ensure the inclusive excellence of our college for current and future generations of students. Graduates, if a staff member here at Mount Holyoke has made a difference in your life, please give the staff a huge round of applause.

I have to say, I’m a big admirer of this class and of this generation. Your boldness and your passion inspire me. Graduates, you have been inspiring in so many ways:

  • The boldness that you've shown in choosing your studies and in supporting one another.
  • The passion you feel for your causes and your openness to building community as you make way for change.
  • The boldness in which you accept and find yourself in this inclusive community and your passion for Mount Holyoke.

To be passionate about an institution that is almost 200 years old means more than admiring our charming campus. But it means doing all of the things that you as graduates have done. You’ve engaged and you will stay engaged. You will be engaged with the alums who you met yesterday at Laurel Parade, (and) grads of all generations, perspectives and walks of life. Stay engaged with your staff and professors. As a faculty member myself, I can promise that we will always love to hear from you and to cheer you on in your many accomplishments after graduation. And being passionate also means staying in touch with the Mount Holyoke community and future students.

Passion. Compassion. Bold curiosity and gratitude. Keep these in your hearts as a guide as you move forward. And remember that your liberal arts education has equipped you with the ability to recognize complexity, develop nuanced views and work with others to solve problems. It’s a skill set our world sorely needs and I urge you to keep your skills sharp. Graduates, I cannot wait to see what you do next. All of us can’t wait to see what you do next. We are so proud of you. Congratulations.

And now, speaking of boldness, passion and curiosity, please welcome our student speaker, Mackenzie Pauline Windus ’24.