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Sonya Castellino's Baccalaureate Address

Following is the baccalaureate speech delivered by Sonya J. Castellino '02 for the 2002 commencement weekend.

Four years ago, five hundred girls entered the gates of this small college in South Hadley. Fresh faced, they anticipated adventure and knowledge. We, the class of 2002, exit the journey now, each with the precious and well-earned title of "woman." We taught to and learned from each other; we grew into a strong community. Our experiences definitely shaped us, and the foundation we gained at Mount Holyoke allows us to enter the world to make our marks.

Not too long ago, we all received enticing promotional material stating that Mount Holyoke College is the place for women who want to make a difference. I am proud to recognize that we have risen to this grand challenge repeatedly. Amongst our graduating class we have academic and social-change award winners, authors, mothers, financial independents, team captains and even the two women who initiated the first-ever Mount Holyoke Orchestra. Though we shared laughs about such hackneyed phrases as "proactive" and "future leaders," we have steadily become women worthy of such adjectives…just as those college brochures promised.

As we leave the protective gates of Mount Holyoke, we will be asked about what we did here, as our school is such a well-kept secret. In fact, a relative of mine recently asked why women need colleges of their own. The familiar question goes something like this: "what do they teach you at that all girls school?" My reply began with: Excuse me, but I attend a women’s college… In the years to come, how will you describe Mount Holyoke women? What will you be proud enough of, to recall?

You might begin with our unique diversity: socio-economic, cultural, racial, age, and religious, just to name a few. There were five cultural houses on campus and nine major faith groups represented. Our most popular majors were English and Psychology. We were as full of Sarahs and Kathryns as we were of athletes in sports from Field Hockey to Ice Hockey.

You’ll probably mention that we were surrounded by wonderful resources–an amazing library, a delightful greenhouse, and the most officially beautiful campus–and we supported them. We "committeed" ourselves so that we could bask in the freedoms and empowerment of cultural organizations and self-scheduled exams. We swarmed Blanchard Café in search of Chef Jeff’s, larger-than-life cookies…We congregated in Abbey Chapel.

Don’t ever forget that we continued time-honored traditions. First-year memories were marked by gatherings for M and Cs, jamming the Mountain Day hotline, and possibly reaching the top of Skinner Mountain with a brown bag lunch. We also woke to a week’s worth of surprises, the kindness of which we returned as sophomores, in an event called elfing. As juniors, we wrote and starred in an original musical in which we were "caught red-handed." As seniors, we rose and robed at 6 am to eat ice cream at the grave of our beloved founding mother, Mary Lyon. Senior privileges included little sisters, library carrels, and useful keychains.

For every recollection, however, remember to also look forward because the challenge of making a difference really begins now. It is to uphold our youthful fervor, as we simultaneously blend into life as alums. There will be no more weeks of sweatpant-wearing. It will be hard to plan life around television shows, we won’t have time for naps everyday…and I’m sorry to point out that grab ‘n go is not available in most homes. In fact, we will face many responsibilities unbeknownst to us, since most of us lived on campus, like walking dogs and blowing out candles before we leave our humble abodes.

We are lucky to have called this place our home. We were nurtured, spoiled even, by our parents, staff, and peers as we explored the vast opportunities here, many of which were made possible by those before us. Now we must, scared as we all are, cook and clean for ourselves. But, while we are polishing these skills, let us not forget to continue what we started during our time here…

Four years ago, colleges across the globe promised us many gifts. This school gave them to us, through our wonderfully unique educations, but with the understanding that we would pass these gifts on to future generations. Though initially unprepared for such duty, it has become clear through our actions, that we were destined to be agents of inspiration–that is, destined to be Mount Holyoke women.

Be confident that we have created and earned the tools necessary to survive "out there." We will take our ideas, enthusiasm, and pride to schools, corporate America, and into our homes. We must persevere in fights for justice and we must educate to eradicate ignorance. Such is our vocation. Together, Mount Holyoke class of 2002, we will show people exactly what the benefits are of liberal arts education for women. Have courage, keep faith, and good luck to all of us.

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Copyright © 2005 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on March 17, 2005.

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