Inaugural Perspectives

Celebrating Traditions and Transformations

In assuming the presidency, I am strengthened and energized by the extraordinary legacy of Mount Holyoke College. That legacy is more than this stunning campus, although its natural beauty lures people here and infuses their experience in transcendental ways well understood by our students from Emily Dickinson's time to the present. It is more than the imposing buildings, although our foremothers knew how important it was to ground their dream of a college for women in bricks and mortar.

Several of us on the platform might think ourselves unlikely participants in a celebration of a college that has been a model for the worldwide education of women for nearly 160 years. Joyce Carol Oates, [Smith College President] Ruth Simmons, [Professor of Science] Harriet Pollatsek, [Student Government President] Tami Gouveia, and I are all first-generation or first-woman college graduates in our families, and [Alumnae Association President] Meg Woodbury is only two generations away from slavery. All of us overcame multiple barriers and biases, be they related to class, race, ethnic origin, economic status, gender, or general low expectation, to secure our education. But, in fact, the legacy of Mount Holyoke includes its long tradition of access for students who are not highly privileged. For example, Frances Perkins '02, first woman to hold a Cabinet post, and Ella Grasso '40, first woman to be elected to a state governorship in her own right, were first-generation college students. Even today more than 40 percent of our graduating seniors have mothers who are not college graduates. Indeed, the shared legacy of most women across history and around the world is lack of educational opportunity.

...[But] here in 1837 was founded what is now the oldest continuous institution of higher learning for women. The founder, Mary Lyon, was a revolutionary who believed in the transformative power of education. Students were rigorously educated and infused with a sense of practicality, idealism, and adventure. Encouraged to break out of conventional roles, Mount Holyoke women became a formative force in the world. Carrying on Mary Lyon's pioneering legacy, they founded well over forty schools and colleges across this country and [abroad]. ...

Over the years Mount Holyoke itself was transformed through changing times and visionary leadership. President Mary Woolley drew together a distinguished faculty of scholar/teachers who made this one of the world's premier liberal arts colleges. Formative firsts --such as being the first women's college to offer laboratory science-- were honed into formidable strengths. Other traditions were transformed into powerful new shapes-- for example, missionary connections around the world evolved into our richly international curriculum and student body.

President David Truman skillfully navigated the turbulent seventies, laying the foundations for the diverse, inclusive community we so value. Reincarnated in President Kennan was the fundraising genius of Mary Lyon. She built the financial resources of the College and strengthened its curriculum and connections to larger contexts. Both Presidents Truman and Kennan played leadership roles in building that wonderful alliance called the Five Colleges. ...

Now, as the millennium approaches, I have called on all of us to think creatively and strategically about how the College shall continue to adapt itself to the kaleidoscopic transformations of the world and of knowledge. Yet the single issue that provokes the most attention is that of our identity as a "women's" college. ...

The women's movement of the last thirty years has sensitized many of us to the ghettoizing of women across human history, but we have also found "the ghetto" of our womanhood a congenial "place to live," indeed, a place of intellectual ferment and creative energy. For one thing, we have found each other, a sisterhood of women. ...Together as teachers, students, and objects of study, women are having a formative effect on the larger academy. Many disciplines are being reconceptualized through the influence of new theory, perspectives, and material. The view from "the ghetto" is, in fact, revolutionary, so devalued and discounted across history has it been.

Past Presidents

Dignitaries included a passel of past Mount Holyoke presidents (left to right): Elizabeth Kennan '60 and David Truman, former acting president Joseph Ellis, and 1995 interim president Peter Berek.

Sheriff Robert Garvey

Hampshire County Sheriff Robert Garvey opens installation proceedings with ceremonial flair and a hearty " ... Please be in order."

Student Painters

Students have a brush with greatness as they design and paint festive banners to decorate the inaugural platform.

Receiving Charter

Barbara Rossotti '61, chair of the board of trustees, hands President Creighton a copy of the Mount Holyoke charter, one of the official symbols of her office.

[RealAudio] A recording of President Creighton's inaugural address can be heard using RealAudio.

Now more than ever we are able to appreciate the importance of the tradition of rigorous academic training and bold leadership pioneered by Mount Holyoke College and the sister institutions that have followed in its path. Challenging the ghettoizing of women, Mary Lyon, from the first, envisioned that Mount Holyoke graduates would make a difference in the world. Recipients of a 160-year legacy, we are now in an especially advantageous position to build upon what has been so carefully nourished here.

Part of our legacy is a resonant connection to the past. A nearly visible laurel chain connects me to the living presidents who are up here on the podium: interim President Peter Berek, acting President Joseph Ellis, Presidents Elizabeth Kennan and David Truman. ... And this connection extends from these presidents back to their predecessors, many of whom have metamorphosed into buildings bearing their names. As I go into Mary Lyon Hall every day, or walk over to Mary Woolley or Chapin Auditorium, I can almost feel the presence of our forebears. Frances Perkins is alive and well, embodied in hundreds of nontraditional [aged] students, the Frances Perkins scholars, who are, like their namesake, nontraditional in their aspirations. I am reminded of a comment of William Faulkner: "There is no such thing really as 'was' because the past is. It is part of every man, every woman, and every moment." ...

At the heart of this College is a dedicated faculty of scholar/teachers who have come together as an intellectual community to build a richly interdisciplinary and innovative curriculum. Bringing the frontiers of knowledge to the campus, they set a high standard of academic rigor and draw students into intense collaborative work with them. ...

Students feel supported by the faculty and powerfully linked to the College, to its traditions, to each other, and to a shared sense of purpose. A student leader explained to me her commitment to service with this comment: "I want to be a beacon for others to follow." I had the uncanny illusion that Mary Lyon was speaking. Daughters of Mary Lyon all, our students are determined to make a difference. Moreover, accomplished and passionately loyal alumnae extend the College community and the commitment to the public good across the country and around the world. And they generously give back to the College, replenishing its spirits and coffers. ... No wonder there is such fervor to keep intact this special women-centered community.

Not that this is a place that disdains men. Men supported Mary Lyon and built this college. Men have served admirably as presidents and trustees. Countless distinguished men, including a Nobel Prize-winning poet, the late Joseph Brodsky, have taught here. Men now make up half of the faculty and a sizable portion of the staff. Young men attend classes on this campus through the Five Colleges and other exchanges. Men --fathers, husbands, brothers, sons, friends-- provide invaluable support. ...

Yet however important men are to us, this is a "college of our own," with a tradition of its own, and a transformative power of its own. This is a college of "uncommon women" in President Gettell's memorable phrase, made famous by acclaimed playwright Wendy Wasserstein '71. ...

In fact, Mount Holyoke itself is downright uncommon, quite unlike worlds from [which] students come and where they will go. Here students have the opportunity to reimagine themselves and their role in the world. ... At Mount Holyoke we are less about the business of fitting into a larger social order than we are about transforming it, making it better. We want to continue the revolutionary work that began here. We cannot forget that most of the women (and men) in the world are without our advantages. Moreover, we value the unique and still largely uncharted "women's culture" that is ours to understand, to nurture, to celebrate, and to draw sustenance from. And what better place to do so than at this pioneering college?

The core of the legacy we are celebrating today is the potency and durability of an idea --the transformative power of liberal education for women and the transformative power of women in the world. This idea conjoins academic rigor with practical idealism. It is infused with a palpable sense of connectedness to this beautiful place, to its history and traditions, to one another, and to humanistic values.

In accepting the privilege of this office, I reaffirm our historical commitment to the highest standards of excellence in liberal education, our support of distinguished scholarship and teaching, our special emphasis on science, internationalism, interdisciplinary studies, innovative curricula, and public service. We will honor Mary Lyon's vision of permanence by using our endowment prudently. We will honor the principle of access by generous financial aid policies. We will honor the principles of diversity and inclusiveness by seeking out students, faculty, and staff from a variety of backgrounds.

As we face the challenges before us, I commit us to candor and collaboration. I am confident that working together --students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumnae-- we will continue the tradition of bold, purposeful, and transformative leadership.

Dining Services employees serve an elegant picnic lunch to 2,400 guests in twenty-two minutes on Sunday afternoon.

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