Remarks by President Lynn Pasquerella ’80

Remarks as prepared.

Good morning. I am Lynn Pasquerella, president of Mount Holyoke College, and it is my pleasure to welcome you to the 179th Commencement exercises of Mount Holyoke College.

No Commencement should ever begin without acknowledging the sacrifices of family and friends in supporting the graduates. To our students’ loved ones, let me say, we know what you’ve been through. You have been a ready ear for concerns about writing papers and finishing finals. You have cheered when news of a competitive internship came through on the plus side. And you have been a steady hand in filling out way-too-many tedious FAFSAs. At times, the road to graduation must have seemed to you as jammed and as endless as the Mass Pike on the third weekend in May. But then there is today—a moment in time when all of us realize the miles have been worth it. To the parents, partners, families, and friends, let me say your pride in these graduates matches our own. Thank you for your love and support, and for caring so deeply about this remarkable class.

And to the class of 2016, our soon-to-be blue lion alumnae, congratulations! You did it! In a few moments, you will walk across this stage and receive your diploma—an emblem of your hard work, optimism, perseverance, and resilience. We savor this moment with you and truly delight in your achievement.

When you open your diploma to see if your name is spelled correctly—and it will be—let me tell you one thing you won’t find. You won’t find that you graduated from Mary Lyon College, which was almost the name of our institution. When our founder drew up plans for the seminary, supporters thought she should name the school for herself. After all, there was Emma Willard’s School. Why not, asked her supporters, Mary Lyon’s Seminary?

But Mary Lyon put her foot down; she thought the idea was shortsighted. Founders pass leadership to their successors, she said. The school’s name should evoke an image as enduring and formidable as the education itself. When she looked around this beautiful valley for something to inspire her, she found what she was searching for. The seminary would be named for Mount Holyoke, a nearby summit on the Metacomet Range.

As I look at our graduates, I am keenly aware that this Commencement marks your departure and my departure from this extraordinary place. Just like you, I leave to take the next step, to embark on another challenge. And I feel—as you do—excited about the future, but so already homesick for Mount Holyoke. And so, I have been pondering that mountain peak and considering what our namesake symbolizes.

Here’s what I think. There are few moments at the College that remind us more vividly of who has gone before us—and who will come after than climbing that peak on Mountain Day. For those of you who have made the step-by-step trek up, you may feel as I do that you are walking in the path of Emily Dickinson, Frances Perkins, and Suzan-Lori Parks. They blazed a trail, just as you have for students who will be arriving in South Hadley next September.

It is a poignant feeling to realize we are all footsteps on that trail, that thousands of individual imprints grace the mountain—steps connecting each generation to the next. And when you arrive at the summit—is there a more sublime view? The slow curve of the Connecticut River, the asparagus fields of Hadley, Amherst’s tight clutch of roads, Northampton, Brattleboro, Springfield, and Hartford. Sometimes standing at the top of Mount Holyoke, it seems as if everything is so close–you can hold it all in the cup of your hands.

As we prepare to move on, let’s remember what endures: the sturdy foundation of that old mountain, the footsteps of those behind and ahead of us, friendship, and a perspective so vast it touches the sky. Thank you.