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Nancy W. Hendrie '54's Commencement Address

The 2003 commencement remarks of Nancy W. Hendrie '54:

Forty-nine years ago I sat where you are sitting. I was waiting to graduate with Mount Holyoke's class of 1954, and to set off to medical school.

But my assignment here today is not to reminisce, but to deliver a charge to those of you about to graduate, and it is this: Make your life stand for something. Reach out your hands and heart to some one or some group whose existence is not being played out in the excesses of the U.S.A.. The next forty or fifty years are a lot shorter than you now think, and when you come to look back on them, it will not matter how big a house you lived in, what fancy car you drove, or what expensive parties you went to. Climb the ladder of success in your chosen profession, and raise brilliant and charming children if you want to, but please start right now, if you have not already, to connect with others in the world who do not have your opportunities, your relative wealth and the backing of friends and family. Whatever your personal situation, you have been given much, and have much to give.

Money, though an issue, is not THE issue: it is your time and your connection. Misunderstanding and mistrust are rife in the world today, and most of us see the world through the lens of great privilege, as in just being here today to graduate from Mount Holyoke.

You can start very modestly in the U.S. . Volunteer a few hours a week in a shelter for battered women. Or help at an Open Pantry food center, or at an HIV/AIDS program. Connect with an inner-city literacy program, or volunteer to coach basketball or soccer at an underfunded, budget-cut city school.

Soon, or later, you could go to an underdeveloped country for even a few weeks a year and teach art or reading or sports, or help in an orphanage. Opportunities abound on the Web.

We live in a fabulous land of TOO MUCH, and we nauseate the rest of the world as we wallow in it. You, the next generation, can do better

You have more uplifting things to think of today, but my charge to you all is to connect with the wider world. What will be important to you as you near the end of your lives is what you have done to enable others to lead a life better than that of poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness. Next birthday, and everyone after, instead of accumulating more trinkets for "the girl who has everything," ask for donations of time or materials for your personal cause. A small amount of self, or a few dollars, go a very long way in the right hands, and at the end of your career, whatever it is, your habit of giving, along with, of course, your immediate family, will be your most treasured connections to this life. Thank you.

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