Donna Shalala, U.S. secretary of health and human services, came to Mount Holyoke to deliver the commencement address. But she also came to do a little recruiting. At the May 26 ceremony, Shalala told the graduating class, "I am here recruiting for America's future. I am here looking for the first woman president of the United States. So stand up--and let me look you over....I have brought along my political crystal ball, and I'm ready to make a prediction about the future. I predict a woman of your generation--specifically a member of the Mount Holyoke class of 1996--will win the presidency."
At the beginning of her address, Shalala dispelled any fears in the audience that her remarks might be dull or too long. Standing on a stepstool, the petite secretary wryly confided, "I was actually three inches taller before I went to Washington." She then quoted a former governor: "Commencement speakers should think of themselves as the body at an old-fashioned Irish wake. They need you in order to have the party, but nobody expects you to say very much."
Shalala urged the graduating class to strive towards three qualities in life. "Whether or not you decide to run for president, you will be judged by [your]...courage, integrity, and compassion....These are the standards by which we ought to judge our first woman candidate for the presidency in the new century....[and] by which we ought to judge ourselves."
Shalala concluded her speech by encouraging the class of 1996 to take risks and wishing them well. "You have a long journey ahead of you--it will be enormous fun and serious business...As you embark on that journey, I hope you don't play it safe. I wish for you the best of everything. I wish you courage, integrity, and compassion. I wish you good health, great friendship, and uncomfortable, but exciting lives."
The audience thoroughly enjoyed Shalala's speech. According to Sonali Gulati '96, who described the secretary as "vibrant," "lively," and "entertaining," Shalala "made the class of 1996 feel special--more than just another graduating class among many."
After Shalala's speech, Devavani Chatterjea '96 addressed her classmates. Describing her soon-to-be alma mater, Chatterjea said, "[Mount Holyoke is]...a castle--of learning--for spirited, talented princesses, who dedicated themselves to claiming the fullest, freest, most imaginative education they could have, and...they lived there, made friends for lifetimes, and then left to claim the rest of the world."
Chatterjea's commitment to the College elicited enthusiastic applause from her classmates. "A lot of us did not come to Mount Holyoke because it is a women's college. But quite a few stayed because it is, and many, many of us...grew to appreciate and fiercely love the beauty, worth, and potency of an excellent education claimed and lived in a community of women....Therefore, it is our responsibility to ourselves and to other women to urge and inspire them to join us, to articulate our belief that the need for intellectual spaces such as Mount Holyoke College is current, immediate, and vital."
A total of 462 bachelor of arts degrees, five master of arts degrees, two master of arts in teaching degrees, sixteen certificates for international students, and two Frances Perkins fellows certificates of achievement were conferred at the ceremony.
Great expectations--The class of 1996 enjoys commencement speaker Donna Shalala, who predicted that one of its members will be the first woman president.