Chandra Rachel Bing Greene Dunn' 97 Student Address
President Creighton, Secretary of State Albright, Trustees, Faculty, Staff, Families, Friends, Guests, and distinguished women of the Class of Nineteen Ninety-Seven, Good Morning.
In the grand tradition of this college, I have been up all night working on this speech. As I struggled to express-eloquently, no less!-- all that Mount Holyoke has meant to me, I was helped by the following excerpt from Emily Bronte. I quote: "I've dreamt in my life dreams that have stayed with me ever after, and changed my ideas; they've gone through and through me, like wine through water, and altered the color of my mind."
At the end of four years at Mount Holyoke, we dare to dream dreams that we never thought possible; dreams that have profoundly altered the color of our minds,-- much as I imagine they did Emily Bronte's. Consider for a moment all that Mount Holyoke has offered us: an intoxicatingly rich intellectual life, the license - indeed- the imperative to explore, to question and debate, the mandate to be critical thinkers and compassionate human beings. It has wrought for us an experience which should spur us to change the world. We, the class of 1997, are a group of women who have the imagination to envision new and better realities, the passionate determination to fuel our endeavors, and equally important, the practical knowledge and tools to work together to translate the abstract into reality. I think we all agree that for this extraordinary inheritance we have Mount Holyoke to thank.
Mount Holyoke's class of 1997 is comprised of truly outstanding and uncommon women. Four years ago, we came together on common ground at Mount Holyoke College eager to learn and develop our talents. We brought with us impressive academic performances, a strong record of community service and a commitment to progressive social change. --As well as our many differences. There are 525 of us, representing 37 countries--and 525 ways of understanding religion, class, political ideology, sexuality, race, ethnicity:--the world. Of course,--these vaunted differences between us, as we all know, are often the cause of much exasperation, and we sometimes lose sight of the fact that it is precisely these differences with all of their exasperating and enriching potential that make life at Mount Holyoke so meaningful.
We have been a part of this community as this community has become a part of us. Our voices have been raised in dialogue and debate, our strength and endurance have fortified our athletic teams, and our minds have invigorated this academic community.
Over the past year, our class has played an especially active role in helping to plan the course of our college for the next five years. As with any collaborative process, we have struggled to understand and challenge one another as we simultaneously define our personal priorities and the priorities of our community. We are markedly different individuals and brokering a peace between us, as I can attest is no mean task. What I hope we have learned through all our disagreements and alliances is that conflict can be channeled productively and compassionately, and I know that this is a skill which we will take with us wherever we go.
Maybe we should pause for a moment to see what goes into the making of a responsible community member. A hundred thousand dollars for room, board, and tuition helps! What also helps is a relentless sense of critical inquiry and the skills to think clearly and honestly. Our faculty has certainly goaded me towards this,--at times not so gently! Two years ago, while trying to decide my major, I sat in on Professor Eva Paus' Economic Development 213. As she spoke to the class, I felt a growing, epiphanous sense of excitement. This was what I wanted to do. This was what I wanted to study. Here was a vocabulary that would allow me to articulate my thoughts, my opinions, my beliefs. At the end of class, quite overwhelmed, I went up to her and spoke for ten breathless minutes, scarcely pausing. When my rhapsody was over, feeling quite satisfied with myself, I exclaimed the almost rhetorical "do you know what I mean?" Professor Paus looked at me with full intent and said "No. Explain yourself." In retrospect, this is what the Mount Holyoke experience is all about. My professors jolted me out of my complacency, and forced me to order my thoughts--and in learning this, I learned how to make coherent a quite chaotic world. Including the fact of its chaotic nature.
And of course it has always been a messy world. What we have learned at Mount Holyoke is the necessity to recognize and negotiate these ambiguities, the need in this post-modern world to take a stand--and be fluid at the same time. We already know that conflict makes us strong.
Juggling the many demands placed on us by faculty, friends, family--and our own self-reflexivity is harrowing--and yet something quite remarkable can be born of this pressure. As Maya Angelou said, "A diamond is the result of extreme pressure, less pressure is crystal, less than that is coal, less than that is fossilized leaves or plain dirt. Pressure can change you into something quite precious, quite wonderful, quite beautiful...".
Congratulations class of 1997!! You are all precious, wonderful, and beautiful!!
As we celebrate the 200th birthday of our founder Mary Lyon, I feel confident that we are well equipped to carry out her charge: "Go forward, attempt great things, accomplish great things." We leave Mount Holyoke moving forward in our lives to do just that--well prepared by the greatness we have encountered during our time here. As I say good bye to all of you, I ask the Class of 1997 to please rise.
Let us applaud Mount Holyoke for all that it has done and continues to do for women like us.
Let us applaud our faculty for compelling us and teaching us to explain our selves and our thoughts.
Let us applaud our family and friends for supporting, encouraging, and for--well--putting up with us!
And let us celebrate and congratulate each other for being wonderful companions along this journey, to this day.
Thank you. Good-bye and good luck.