Nothing could have dampened the momentous mood of Mount Holyoke's 163rd commencement--not even the day's unseasonably cool May drizzle. Spirits were high as the women of the class of 2000 marched in procession through the packed field house, pale-blue-trimmed hoods draped over their black gowns, their tasseled mortarboards embellished with everything from rose wreaths to Mickey Mouse ears. Cheered by families and friends, the 483 graduating seniors were heralded by MHC president Joanne Creighton as the "unparalleled class of the new millennium," the class that has "set the standard for the next 999 years."
Creighton, who opened the Sunday ceremony at which the year's honorary degrees, certificates for international students, and bachelor of arts degrees were conferred, summoned the College's recent equestrian team's national championship as a symbol of the great accomplishments in store for the class of 2000. Highlighting the College's legacy of influence on generations of women, Creighton introduced Elisabeth Snell '00, class speaker and member of a family that has produced more than twenty MHC graduates since 1892. Snell spoke with aplomb, candor, and humor of her years at MHC, of friendships with professors, late-night conversations with fellow students under the eaves of the library's rare book room, and of a cappella jams. "I have lived wholly, gratefully, and often loudly in this inspiring, all-too-temporary community," she said. She described the bumpy road of learning-- mistakes and all--as key to "the richest and most interesting lives" and as "the foundation for what lies ahead."
The ability of education to empower, and the responsibility of the educated to contribute to society at home and globally were themes in the brief comments made by honorary degree recipients Roberta Guaspari, founder of the East Harlem Violin Program and a champion of music education in public schools; Glenda A. Hatchett '73, Georgia's first African American chief presiding judge of a state court and former department head of one of the largest juvenile court systems in the country; Samuel Rudolph Insanally, ambassador and permanent representative of Guyana to the United Nations; and Dorothy Rooke McCulloch '50, a member of the Campaign for Mount Holyoke Steering Committee and former chair and volunteer for International House, a Rhode Island organization devoted to international understanding and exchange.
The day's commencement speech was delivered by Mary Patterson McPherson, professor of philosophy, president emeritus of Bryn Mawr College, vice president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and an influential champion of diversity and pluralism in higher education. McPherson was also the recipient of a doctor of humane letters degree. Several of her remarks were inspired by a letter written by Margaret Ball (class of 1900), included in the time capsule left by Mount Holyoke women a century ago and opened in April by the class of 2000. Ball, she said, envisioned "greater opportunities" for twenty-first century graduates: "You have been prepared to think of the world and your place in it differently," McPherson summarized. "For you, global, economic, and cultural integration is already a given in your lives."
McPherson's optimism for the future was mixed with a note of concern for what she described as a "strong strain of isolationism often paired with anti-intellectualism in this country." Mount Holyoke women today have "studied, played, and lived with women from all over this country and the world," she said, adding that they have witnessed "a developing opportunity for this country to be a force for good in the world." She reminded the class of the "responsibilities and obligations that accompany the privileges of education and the support of an enlightened community." The "fresh thinking and stronger resolve" of Mount Holyoke's millennial class, she said, can help the country "move beyond isolationism, provincialism, self-centeredness--in short beyond ugliness--to be welcomed as real partners in the global arena."
McPherson punctuated her affecting address with humorous quotes--the apocryphal words of Henry the VIII to one of his many wives, "I shall not keep you long"; and baseball sage Dan Quisenberry's "I have seen the future and it looks much like the present--only longer." She ended with a word about staying connected. "This small and lovely world is yours," she told the class of 2000. "Mount Holyoke will always be among your most ardent admirers, and it is a place to which you can come in fact or in your thoughts, over the years, to be strengthened and nourished." Visit http://www.mtholyoke.edu/offices/comm/oped/ to read the full text of McPherson's speech.