Convocation 2022 Address
Interim President Beverly Daniel Tatum delivered the opening remarks at Mount Holyoke College's 2022 Convocation ceremony.
Thank you, Rachel Beth, for our important land acknowledgement, and Karena, for your warm words of welcome!
Greetings, everyone! It is so wonderful to see you all here, at this September Convocation! I want to add my welcome to our newest students — the red pegasi of class of 2026 — looking great in all your red! To our transfer students — thank you for making Mount Holyoke your new choice! To our exchange students — however long you will be with us, whether a semester or a year — we are glad to have you as a part of our community! To our Frances Perkins students — I see you in your purple — we welcome you as well! New graduate students, perhaps tuning in online, thank you for joining us today — the teal owls! And we warmly welcome our returning students: our sophomores — the green griffins of the class of 2025; our juniors – the blue lions of the class of 2024; and a very special shout-out to the class of the yellow sphinx — this is their LAST opening Convocation of their undergraduate career — the very special class of 2023! Welcome all of you!
Of course, this Convocation would not be complete without the presence of our amazing faculty, gathered here in their own colorful academic regalia. Thank you for being here. And a warm welcome to those faculty who are experiencing their very first Mount Holyoke Convocation.
I want to also appreciate the participation of the fabulous Mount Holyoke staff and administration, whose work every day, often behind the scenes, keeps Mount Holyoke moving!
Students, please help me show our gratitude to everyone here who makes Mount Holyoke possible!
Finally, there are others joining us virtually — alums and family members and friends — who are all part of the extended Mount Holyoke Community. Let’s thank them for their unwavering support for this special place.
On the stage with me you see today’s speakers — Rachel Beth Sayet and Karena Strella (whom we’ve just heard from); our faculty speaker, Professor KC Haydon; our staff speaker, Jordan Lassonde ’16; and our student speaker, Maille Romulus ’24, president of the Student Government Association.
Though she won’t be speaking, I am also very happy to be joined on stage by the newest member of the senior administration of the College who joined us this summer — our provost and dean of faculty, Lisa Sullivan. It is a real delight to have Lisa Sullivan as my “partner in progress,” and the year is already off to a good start because of her leadership in the Office of the Provost and Dean of Faculty.
We have so much to be grateful for here at Mount Holyoke — great students, fabulous faculty and staff, beautiful surroundings, and so much opportunity to learn together. The Common Read this year is “Braiding Sweetgrass,” and if you haven’t yet read it, I hope you will right away. The author, Professor Robin Wall Kimmerer, will be speaking in conversation with Olivia Aguilar, the director of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment, on September 20, and it promises to be a very dynamic conversation. If you have read “Braiding Sweetgrass,” you know that the author writes eloquently about the power and importance of expressing gratitude not just to each other but to the natural world from which we take so much. So, in that spirit, I want to take a moment to express my gratitude to this community for welcoming me back to Mount Holyoke so warmly. Many of you know that I was a faculty member here for many years (from 1989–2002), and for several years, I served as dean of the College, and for a semester I served as acting president. I learned so much during those years! Though I did not attend a women’s college when I was an undergraduate (I attended Wesleyan University), I often say that I received a women’s college education because of all I learned here about the ways an education — like the one that Mount Holyoke provides — can inspire, empower and transform its students (and its faculty and staff, too)! I will always be grateful for my Mount Holyoke education (and the honorary degree I received in 2003), and it is that spirit of gratitude that largely informed my decision to return to Mount Holyoke this year as the interim president, an opportunity to give something back to the place that gave so much to me!
Though the Mount Holyoke College I left 20 years ago — when I headed to Atlanta to become the president of Spelman College — is not identical to the Mount Holyoke I am experiencing today, one thing remains unchanged — it’s still an adventure to be here! In our mission statement, we describe Mount Holyoke as providing an “intellectually adventurous” education. I love that phrase, “intellectually adventurous.” It reminds me of the books my sons used to read when they were young — they were “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. Maybe some of you know of them. At any point in the story, you (the reader) can decide what’s going to happen next and how the story unfolds, depending on the choice you make. Mount Holyoke is like that. You have all made a choice to be here, and your story is unfolding accordingly. But each person’s story is unique — and so is the adventure!
Sometimes on the weekends, I would put our kids in the car, and when they asked where we were going, I would simply say, “We are going to have an adventure.” I did not disclose our destination until we arrived — maybe it was a trip to the beach, a hike in the woods or a visit to a new museum. Whatever the destination, the joy was in the discovery — something new to see, something new to learn. And so it is here: The joy will be in the discovery, not just in the textbook or the lecture but in the conversations before or after class; in the residence halls; over a meal or on a walk; or simply alone, with yourself, as you reflect on the day and write in your journal (a practice I highly recommend).
There is something bold in describing a Mount Holyoke College education as “intellectually adventurous.” I have seen a lot of college and university mission statements, and I haven’t found another institution that describes itself this way. This college has been a bold place from its very beginning, a place that has done adventurous, maybe even risky, things and produced bold graduates — alums who are choosing their own adventure every day.
One of the things I am most excited about this year is a conversation series called “Launching Leadership” that I will host, featuring a diverse group of graduates who are shining examples of an intellectually adventurous Mount Holyoke education in action. These exemplary alums have been opening doors, breaking barriers and providing leadership across a wide range of fields, and all of us — especially our students — should know who they are. They are the embodiment of our mission!
In the short time I have with you today, I want to tell you about just three of the people I plan to spotlight during these conversations:
The first will take place on September 29, featuring Tara Roberts ’91, a self-described adventurer, journalist and humanitarian. Tara is also the 2022 Rolex National Geographic Explorer of the Year, recognized for her work of diving with, and telling stories about, a group of Black scuba divers as they search for wreckage of ships from the Transatlantic slave trade. Her story was turned into a six-part National Geographic–produced podcast called “Into the Depths,” and it was the cover story for the March 2022 issue of National Geographic magazine. I don’t know about you, but I am really excited to learn more about her journey from Mount Holyoke to diving the ocean floor, documenting such significant historical artifacts.
And then there’s Sheila Lirio Marcelo ’93, founder of Care.com, the online marketplace that helps people find trusted caregivers for their every need — whether that is care for children, elders, pets or their homes. (Though not yet confirmed, I am really hoping Sheila will be able to join us.) An economics major at Mount Holyoke, Sheila was inspired to start Care.com just a few years after her graduation from Harvard Business School because, as a young mother of two children, she suddenly had a crisis of care in her family. Her parents were helping her take care of her children when her father had a heart attack. Suddenly, she had both a child-care and an elder-care concern. Sheila recalled, “I was working at an internet technology company and using the Yellow Pages to try to figure out how to find care for my family.” It was then that she developed her business plan for Care.com and launched the company in 2006. Today the platform is the world’s largest network for finding caregivers, used by over 35 million members in over 20 countries. One of only 22 women to have ever founded and led a company to an IPO (that is, an initial public offering on the stock market), Marcelo sold her company in 2019 and is now focused on helping other female founders get the funding capital they need.
Describing herself as a “talent nerd” whose superpower is “constant learning,” Aimée Eubanks Davis ’95 works to ensure underrepresented college students develop the life skills, confidence, experiences and networks that enable them to get strong first jobs after graduation through her startup, Braven. Named as one of America’s Best Startup Employers of 2022 by Forbes magazine, Braven is now operating in five cities and working with more than 3,300 students. Aimee says on the Braven website, “We started with a vision. We’ll end with a generation of leaders as diverse as our future demands.”
What each of these alums have in common is what Sheila Marcelo calls authentic boldness. As Sheila said in an interview, “When you bring your truest self to the table, you are able to be bold in your own authenticity.”
Where does that kind of boldness come from? I’ll tell you that Mount Holyoke inspires it!
Deborah Harkness ’86, history professor and NYT best-selling fiction writer, said of her Mount Holyoke experience, “Here I could feel my horizons expand, my wings spread.” And that’s what Mount Holyoke does — allows you to expand your understanding of yourself and to be bold in your authenticity. As you choose your own adventure, your confidence grows and your boldness emerges.
I have one more example to share. In preparation for today, I watched the video of last year’s Convocation. And I saw the student speaker, Lasya Priya Rao Jarugumilli of the class of 2023, give an inspiring speech. Today Lasya is in DC participating in the American University’s Washington Semester Program and watching us online. Hi, Lasya!
Last year in that speech, Lasya said triumphantly, “I have always suffered from crippling stage fright, but now I am addressing 2,000 people.” That is authentic boldness, and that’s the power of a Mount Holyoke education.
But Lasya also said something else. Lasya talked about an experience that has profoundly shaped their time at Mount Holyoke College, and that is the intergroup dialogue program. I was so excited to hear that because, as some of you will know, I have been writing about intergroup dialogue as a best practice in higher education for some time. I am thrilled to know that we have an intergroup dialogue program in place and even more excited that this year we will have with us as a Presidential Fellow, a nationally known scholar who specializes in intergroup dialogue. Dr. Kristie Ford, author of “Facilitating Change through Intergroup Dialogue,” will be available to help faculty, staff and students deepen our institutional practice of intergroup dialogue, and I especially hope, students, that you will take full advantage of that opportunity this year as you chart your own adventure.
As you contemplate the year ahead, ask yourself, “Where will this intellectually adventurous education lead me? What adventure will I choose?”
You don’t need to know the answer today. In fact, if you think you know the answer today, I’d like to suggest, it might change. And it probably will. That is the nature of adventures. The course you take this semester might lead you down a path you did not anticipate. That conversation with your advisor might inspire you in a way you had not imagined. That talk you attended might connect you to the Lynk internship you always wanted but thought was beyond your reach. The museum exhibit you check out, maybe even the one that has just opened at the Art Museum, might shift your perspective in ways you did not expect. The theater performance you attend — like the one-woman show about Angela Davis happening right here on campus at the end of this month, or perhaps the Pulitzer-winning play by our alum Suzan Lori Parks (and produced by our alum Debra Martin Chase) opening again this fall on Broadway — might capture your imagination in a surprising way. The idea you have while rowing on the river or running on the new track might be the one that changes your life path. Be open to the adventure! Take the risk — that is why you are here!
I want to close with a quote from Braiding Sweetgrass. Robin Wall Kimmerer writes, “This is our work, to discover what we can give. Isn’t this the purpose of education, to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world?” 1
(Repeat) “…to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world!”
This is the work AND the adventure we call Mount Holyoke!
Welcome to it!
1. Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Braiding Sweetgrass (p. 239). Milkweed Editions. Kindle Edition.