Remarks by Joan E. Biren ’66

Remarks as prepared.

My charge to the class of 2017.

It is a joy to be able to charge you, the Mount Holyoke class of 2017. Thank you for honoring me for my accomplishments as a lesbian and feminist activist. I wouldn’t be here today without the communities that encouraged me and sustained me throughout my life. I am humbled and truly amazed to be representing them today.

When I was sitting where you are now, this amphitheater was five years old and I was a closeted lesbian hiding out with my lover in dark corners of the stacks at Williston Library to steal some kisses.

When I graduated, I thought I was pretty smart. But here a few things I’ve learned in over 50 years since then. Listen to your heart and your gut and don’t waste any time living a life that is not authentic to who you are. What is closeting you? The only way to break through those restraints is to take risks. Risk failure. Risk being triumphant.

Recognize, embrace and use your privilege. We are in a time of enormous mean-spirited cruelty. We must all hold on to simple decency and resist. You have an obligation to be part of the struggle for social justice. Do this knowing it benefits you personally, as well as lifting up less-advantaged people. You can discover this by choosing some small thing to do to fight back against sexism, white supremacy and all the other bigoted ugly hatreds. Progress may seem slow, but if you persevere there are always victories within reach.

Don’t care so much what other people think. Social media can never give you the profound acceptance that comes from believing in yourself. I would not have been successful doing my work if I had relied on validation from society when I was younger.

Never stop engaging in what I call radical silliness. Have fun!

Most of all, love. Love people and love truth. Show the love you have for others and feel the love given to you. You go, class of 2017! Resist and love! Resist and love!