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Commencement Speakers Laud the Mount Holyoke Advantage

Nina Totenberg
  Nina Totenberg, Commencement Speaker

The close friendships students form at women’s colleges give them an enormous advantage in tackling life’s problems, NPR’s award-winning legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg told the 168th graduating class of Mount Holyoke College.

“Look to your right and left, and you will see that advantage seated all around you today,” she said.

Totenberg told 547 graduating seniors gathered at Kendall Field House that women friends offer each other something very special—an identity, a connection, sometimes even a salvation. Her friends got her through the long illness and subsequent death of her first husband, former Colorado Democratic Senator Floyd Haskell, and they rejoiced with her when she fell in love and remarried later on. Totenberg opened her speech with a humorous poem she wrote about women wanting it all when they graduate—career, family, money, purpose. Paraphrasing fictional flapper "Auntie Mame," she said life is a banquet that “most poor suckers are too diet-conscious” to enjoy.

“Just remember,” she cautioned, “you don’t have to be a glutton either. You can have it all, within reason.”

Claudia Calhoun
  Claudia Y. Calhoun '05, Student Speaker

Student speaker Claudia Y. Calhoun '05 told her classmates she has been looking for a way to have her version of it all: to make an important contribution to the world, while doing something she loves. Calhoun, an American Studies major from Houston, Texas, and an active member of Mount Holyoke’s Student Coalition for Action, said she’s watched her classmates struggle with the same quest. Read the speech...

She called their struggle good news for the world, because it means that students are thinking about how to make it a more equitable place.

“I’m not worried about the world. Not as long as we’re in it,” she said. Calhoun said that as long as she and her classmates teach others what they’ve learned at Mount Holyoke—how to live out their differences, how to communicate openly, how to have vigorous but peaceful debate—they will make the world better.

“We will change the world every day that we walk in it and let people know: this is what I think, this is what I know, this is what I have learned.” said Calhoun.

Graduating seniors illustrated this theme as they discussed their plans for the future. Nicole Brun-Cottan '05, a Frances Perkins scholar from Southampton, Massachusetts, who majored in critical social thought, said she plans to get a law degree.

“I want to advocate for people who can’t advocate for themselves,” she said.

Summa cum laude graduate Mary Murphy '05, a medieval studies major from Fairfield, Iowa, joined the Peace Corps and will head to Eastern Europe. Murphy said she chose the Peace Corps because she wanted to do something concrete to help people.

The College conferred honorary degrees on Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College and former dean of Mount Holyoke; Barbara Wilson, a 1968 graduate of Mount Holyoke and a program manager for the Center for Space Microelectronics Technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Krisana Kraisintu of the German Medical Aid Organization, who successfully fought for universal access to AIDS drugs in southeast Asia; and Totenberg.

Like Totenberg, Wilson said Mount Holyoke gives its students an advantage over their peers. While most schools teach their science students to regurgitate facts, she said, Mount Holyoke taught her to recognize when she did or did not understand something, an invaluable skill in the sciences. Mount Holyoke also gave her confidence in her abilities, she said.

2005 Commencement Index

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Copyright © 2006 Mount Holyoke College. This page created and maintained by Office of Communications. Last modified on May 24, 2006.