Convocation, the celebration that marks the official beginning of the academic year, was originally scheduled for September 6, 2022, before the first day of classes. However, due to torrential rainfall, the tradition was postponed until September 18.
While Convocation’s day might have changed, the enthusiasm for it did not. Students filed into the Gettell Amphitheater in class colors, bedecked in flower crowns, headbands, cowboy hats, parasols and at least two banana costumes. They were prepared to holler their support for their fellow students, the Mount Holyoke faculty, staff, administrators and guest speakers and performers.
Nic McGrath ’24, a Frances Perkins Scholar from Northampton, said she was ready to “rep being an FP and to hear Dr. Tatum’s speech.”
Faculty wore their academic regalia of robes and hoods. “This is my first time at Convocation,” said Olivia Aguilar, Leslie and Sarah Miller Director of the Miller Worley Center for the Environment and associate professor of environmental studies. “I’m looking forward to the excitement of the students and the support of each class.”
Before the program began, chants of “Y-O! K-E!” and “20-23! 20-23!” rang out from the amphitheater.
Karena Strella ’90, chair of the Board of Trustees, opened the ceremony by noting, “I think South Hadley knows you’re back.”
Interim President Beverly Daniel Tatum welcomed all. “It’s great to see you here, and guess what?” she said. “It’s not raining!”
“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,” she said in her address. “The Common Read this year is “Braiding Sweetgrass,” and 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,” she said.
“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. There is something bold in describing a Mount Holyoke College education as ‘intellectually adventurous,’” she said. “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.”
Faculty speaker KC Haydon, associate professor and co-chair of psychology and education, requested one thing from the student body. “This is a bullet list moment for me, to hear the cheers from onstage,” she said. “Can you indulge me?” The students obliged, roaring their support for her.
Haydon talked about the power of trying new things and the importance of being “intentionally, actively, boldly, really bad at something,” she said. “To be blunt, to completely suck at something.”
“This helps me stay grounded in what it feels like to be a beginner,” she said, after reciting her failures at learning the mandolin, watercolor painting, dancing the Bachata and team rowing.
“And there is so much to learn from that beginner’s mindset. It keeps me close to that curiosity and the adrenaline rush that happens when we grow. And it sustains my empathy for students who are working hard to learn something new in my classes. All of this helps me be a better teacher.”
Jordan Lassonde ’16, the Staff Council representative, said to the students, “You are what we [faculty and staff] hold in common, and what we all strive for is to make a home for you.”
Maille Romulus ’24, the Student Government Association president, talked about the responsibility of community. She shared something her mentor once told her: “Whenever something good happens to you, take someone with you.”
“So what does this mean?” she asked. “Is it that every time you get an opportunity you physically grab someone that you think would benefit from this opportunity and work to create space for them too? Well, yes. But why? Why do you always have to make space for someone else when you could just bask in your opportunity and continue to grow?
“You do this because we all have the responsibility to fight white supremacy. We all have a responsibility to look around, understand who is not present and bring them to the spaces we’re in. It is on each of us to help create the communities we want to be a part of and to bring others with us.”
The event ended with the Convocation Choir singing the “Alma Mater,” but the entire amphitheater thunderously chimed in to sing the lyric “Mount Holyoke forever shall be!”