In spite of the many accomplishments of women leaders, social forces continue to cast leadership as a male role and render successful women invisible, the Right Honourable A. Kim Campbell, the first woman to serve as prime minister of Canada, told an audience of more than 3,000 at Mount Holyoke College's 167th commencement on Sunday, May 23.
"I wish I could tell you that the world is your oyster," Campbell told the 557 members of the class of 2004. "In many ways it is, but I think it's probably for many of you going to be an oyster that's too small for the size of your pearl. You have however, a great advantage. Aside from the academic quality of your education, which is extraordinary, you have lived in an environment that takes women seriously. You have seen what women can accomplish when there are no barriers. You know that men can believe in women, and that the barriers are attitudes, not people. If women absorb the cultural norms that say that women don't really count, they also can be barriers.
"You know that women can and do lead, but you also have the advantage of your network with each other. In this information technology age, such networks can be very powerful. You can help to make sure that the achievements of the class of 2004 are and continue to be recognized and celebrated. You can be a force for demanding that women leaders everywhere be seen and heard," Campbell said. She spoke of her own experience as a member of the Council of Women World Leaders, which she chaired from 1999 to 2003; as president of the International Women's Forum, a post she assumed in 2003; and, since January 2004, as secretary general of the Club of Madrid, an organization of former heads of government and state who work to promote democratization through peer relations with leaders of transitional democracies.
Campbell, who was presented with an honorary doctor of law degree by President Joanne V. Creighton, was joined on the stage of Gettell Amphitheater by three other women of high achievement: Nadine Strossen, the president of the American Civil Liberties Union (doctor of law); Dorothy I. Height, a champion of civil rights, women's rights, and racial equality (doctor of humane letters); and Nancy Skinner Nordhoff '54, a philanthropist and civic leader who established Hedgebrook, a writer's colony for women on Whidbey Island, Washington (doctor of humane letters).
Bachelor of arts degrees were awarded to 557 women in ceremonies that began under a grey sky and concluded in sunshine. Among the graduating seniors were 43 Frances Perkins Scholars; nineteen certificates for international studies and three postbaccalaureate certificates were also awarded.
Strossen took exception to criticism leveled at defenders of civil liberties in the wake of the attacks of September 11. "In our sweet land of liberty, we deserve to and can be both safe and free. You may recall that shortly after 9/11 Attorney General John Ashcroft actually accused us civil libertarian critics of being unpatriotic -- or even traitorous," Strossen said. "In our democracy, where we the people have a responsibility to maintain eternal vigilance over our elected officials, we have a duty to make constructive criticism when they unjustifiably undermine our hard-fought freedoms. Far from John Ashcroft's statement, I choose to adhere to Thomas Jefferson's insight, when he said, 'Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.'
"I urge all of my sister degree recipients in the class of 2004 to continue to raise your influential voices. I will personally guarantee and promise every single one of you that raising your voice will make a difference. And I also promise you that your silence will make a difference."
Nordhoff encouraged the graduates to be careful with their choices - not only the major decisions, but the everyday decisions about dropping a coin in a panhandler's cup, or sitting next to a stranger, or being seen in public in support of an unpopular cause. "The everyday choices help you to create the meaning of your own life, not from outside of you, from the mirror, from yourself.
"Stay open to the opportunities given to you each day," Nordhoff said. "Be deliberate with choices when you have time. Weigh them carefully if you can." She closed with a word of advice: "Whenever you have a chance, you the class of '04, have a chance to invest in the lives of women, say 'yes.' "
Height, who holds the Citizens Medal Award, the Medal of Freedom, and Congressional Gold Medal for her seven decades of work advancing equality, encouraged the graduating seniors to fulfill the promise of the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision issued by the Supreme Court 50 years ago.
"We will be able to teach democracy around the world with more strength and integrity when we shall have accomplished our own task in civil rights," Height said. "You are graduating at a moment when you are most desperately needed. You come forth at a time when we are commemorating 50 years since that great (Supreme Court) decision. From that decision, Rosa Parks shortly thereafter refused to go to the back of the bus, and following that a great civil rights movement was begun. And you know the answer. Forty years ago we had the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act. But the reality is we have come a long way, but we have a long way to cover. We have the laws, but we lack the enforcement."
Chosen to speak for the class of 2004 was Stacey Rose Pulmano '04 of Honolulu, Hawaii, a sociology major with a minor in psychology. She offered reminiscences of four years of college life, and a word of encouragement. "Remember all the people here - friends, faculty and staff that have touched your life and have helped you in your journey to become the person you are today," Pulmano said. "Trust yourself. And if you ever feel lost along the way, just take a look in the mirror. The person staring back at you will know what to do."
Rabbi Lisa Freitag-Keshet, the College's Jewish chaplain, delivered the opening, and Anita Magovern, the College's Catholic chaplain, delivered the closing. The processional was performed by the Deerfield Brass Quintet. Rebecca Elizabeth Bailey '04 of Smithville, Texas, a philosophy major, led the singing of the Alma Mater.