Convocation 2017 transcription

Photo of Camille Gladieux giving a speech at Convocation

A transcription of Convocation 2017 is almost as good as being there.

Crowd:    [cheering, chanting]

SONYA STEPHENS, ACTING PRESIDENT:     Good morning, everyone!

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Welcome home, class of 2018!

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Class of 2019!

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Class of 2020!

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Okay, you win.

Crowd:    [cheering and laughing]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Welcome home to our returning Frances Perkins students!

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    And to our new Frances Perkins students!

Crowd: [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    The warmest of welcomes to the class of 2021.

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Okay, I think I got the hang of this already!

Crowd:    [laughing]

SONYA STEPHENS:    And, let’s not forget — I want everyone to give the warmest of welcomes to our visiting students from international institutions.

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Okay. To the faculty, looking fantastic in their regalia!

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Thank you so much for [inaudible] celebrate this new beginning, thank you. To our extraordinary staff —

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    — and joining us formally this year, how much have you done to ready this campus for this moment? Let’s hear it for everyone who’s been working for your arrival.

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    We are Mount Holyoke.

It has been such a pleasure to spend time with you over the last few days. To welcome those who are new to the campus, and to reconnect with those who are returning. And to celebrate this moment with those who’ve been preparing for your arrival.

We’re all familiar with the saying, the proverb, “It takes a village.” And at Mount Holyoke, like many other communities, it’s true that collaboration and commitment to shared goals, deliver the experience — every experience — you have. But I began to think about that expression, and like NPR’s Joel Goldberg, one day I wondered about its origins. We’re told it’s African. Goldberg was —

Crowd:    [laughing]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Goldberg was a little worried about their appropriation of this when it was used by Hillary Clinton in a campaign speech. So one commentator was certain that the proverb had African roots, Goldberg says, meaning that “regardless of a child’s biology, biological parents, its upbringing belongs to the community.” In Kiswahili, the same proverb exists and it approximates to the same meaning.

Others, though, said, it was a Native American saying. Or perhaps, “some sort of pseudo-African mix of Hallmark and folk sentiments.”

But an African studies professor, Lawrence Mbogoni wrote, “Proverb or not, it takes a whole village to raise a child reflects a social reality some of us who grew up in rural areas of Africa can easily relate to. As a child, my conduct was a concern of everybody, not just my parents. Especially if it involved misconduct. Any adult had the right to rebuke and discipline me, and would make my mischief known to my parents, who would in turn also mete out their own ‘punishment.’ The concern, of course, was the moral well-being of the community.”

Others interviewed in this regard felt, like Mbogoni, that it mattered little what the cultural origin was if there was some human truth, some communication of the profound statement of collective social responsibility. It matters more that we connect across cultures with stories that differentiate us and universal truths that bind us.

At Mount Holyoke, we are a multicultural community. Proverbs, insights, our perspectives to share. And we commit to sharing them in ways that are authentic, culturally tethered and appropriately referenced.

Our individual endeavors engender collective social responsibility. Collective concern is collective power, as October’s Hortense Parker Celebration will explore. We are responsible for each other’s growth and success, and for our village —this campus, the College. And it is a shared responsibility to hold each other accountable for the way we are and the values that we live.

Mount Holyoke is a community that has endured and celebrated 180 years of change. History whispers in the corridors and seeps through the bark of the trees and the brickwork of the buildings. The paths have been trodden by generations of students, faculty and staff before you, and others will follow. On this campus I often feel the truth of Mary Lyon’s words when she said that, “This is an affecting spot to me. The stones of brick and mortar speak a language,” and that we must here “learn to sit with energy.”

   

We engage with the history of this place through memories and archives and traditions, and we slide into them, like hand-me-downs that fit like a glove — or not. But I’m also mindful of a poem that a student wrote and shared with me four years ago, expressing the simultaneous sense of belonging to and the dislocation from the history of the college.

“See,” (she wrote of Mary Lyon), “I once thought she built this school for the likes of me
Till history showed me
that she founded this in 1837
twenty-eight years before slavery had ‘ended’”

Recent decades have seen a reckoning with the past of great universities, and recent months have seen statues removed in a challenge to the white supremacists of the past ... Just as sociologists and anthropologists and philosophers have brought into focus the exclusions inherent to the very notion of community that we so readily propagate. Articulations of Mount Holyoke’s commitment have tried to recognize this challenge. The Statement of Community, adopted by the faculty’s legislation in 1971, and still current in their handbooks, amplifies the honor code in many ways — and important ones. It goes like this, if you haven’t read it:

“Mount Holyoke College believes in the right, indeed the necessity, of free inquiry and free expression for every member of the college community. The College aims to provide an environment hospitable to open interchanges of knowledge and opinion in the terms of reasoned discourse. The citizen’s rights to free speech, free movement, free association, peaceful assembly, and orderly protest extend to every member of the College. So do the citizen’s responsibility to uphold the law and the civilized person’s obligation to respect the rights and feelings of others. The goal for the new century” — that was the last one! — I’m kidding —

[laughter]

“The goal for the new century must be to build a community of students, faculty, and staff devoted to intellectual and creative freedom, critical inquiry, personal honor, ethical discernment, and responsibility. We must encourage openness and candor, dialogue and debate, and the creative engagement of all constituencies in building a genuine community.”

This is the important part coming —

“A college does not become a community by so naming itself. Community is a dynamic condition, difficult and yet necessary to achieve, reached by active synthesis, by the consensus of free wills and free intelligences agreeing to pursue objectives in common, in an atmosphere of general sympathy, forbearance, respect, and trust. When such conditions prevail, there should be little occasion for coercion or violence, or for punitive response, and the very occurrence of such action will suggest that the community has failed, at least for the time, to achieve its common purposes. Ultimately the quality of life in the College is the property of the conscience of all its members.”

This statement expresses a commitment that now underpins an evolved and evolving vital, global and inclusive community of consequence — understood as a complex concept that includes individual freedoms, democracy and justice. Our values of diversity, equity and inclusion, free and civil discourse, the exchange of ideas, a deep sense for all of belonging here, and of contributing to the intellectual and social climate that make Mount Holyoke what it is. In many ways, it corresponds to Jean-Luc Nancy’s positive concept of community, which privileges spaces of sharing, of being with, the in-common, and exposition.

Mount Holyoke community, by its residential nature, offers you an opportunity to connect, to be with each other, to share experiences, to create and celebrate both difference and the in-common. It proposes with the right conditions for different values and in group identities, the opportunity for what Peter Block called “the alchemy of the morning.”

Each of you belongs here. This is your college now. Your campus, your community. You cannot leave the work of community-building, of engagement and sharing, to others.

This year will see the opening of a signature building on campus. A connector of lakes and greens, buildings and architectural styles, a facility away from being, of student space and academic contact, of coffee and conversation. It is a place with unity, leadership, creativity and companionship — in its original sense of breaking bread — at its heart. A place fueled by the sharing of food and drink, and by laughter, friendship and solidarity. The Community Center will stand and provide for, what together we will create and be. A community of thinkers and doers, a network of contemporary change agents, a community for intellectual, creative and social exchange. A microcosm of Mount Holyoke as we conceive of it. It will be a place that is generative of energy, activity and organization.

   

But like community, a community center does not become central to our understanding of its purpose by so naming itself. Like the classes you will teach or take, like the commitments that you will make to each other, this community center and the very community it describes will only be as inclusive, vibrant and engaging as you make it.

   

There’s a tradition at Mount Holyoke that happened here just this week, to watch “Dirty Dancing” together.

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    And to cheer at the line and the sentiment that, "Nobody puts Baby in a corner."

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    There are many ways in which one could critique this line, I’m not going to.

Crowd:    [laughing]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Just to reassure you. But I want you to take it as an invitation. Here at Mount Holyoke — and always — fully to own your achievements. And always to position yourself as belonging and emboldened by who you are and what you can do. I hope that you will today, and always, make a conscious commitment to make Mount Holyoke yours. To make your imprint of the paths of greens and on all those around you. To fill the library not only with the energy of your work in the moment and the joy of learning it together, but also to fill its future shelves with histories and your stories. To build a community you want to be a part of, and to make the history of Mount Holyoke’s present and its future.

Once again, welcome class of 2021.

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Welcome home, 2020.

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    The senior class, 2018.

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    To everyone, welcome home.

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY, ASSOCIATE DEAN OF FACULTY:     Good morning, Mount Holyoke.

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    Buenos dias.

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    Good morning brilliant, beautiful, brave, beloved community.

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    Now community means people coming together with shared connections that bind them. So, my beloved community, I’m going to ask you to do some bonding right now. Keep it clean, y’all.

Crowd:    [laughing]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    So, what I want you to do is look into the eyes of your neighbor. Yes, now I am not your neighbor — so look into the eyes of your neighbor. Now, get a good look.

Crowd:    [laughing]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    Now comes the really fun part. Look into the eyes of your neighbor and say, “We are Mount Holyoke. We are community.” Do it.

Crowd:    We are Mount Holyoke. We are community. [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    So now I want you all to get a good look. Look all around you at your fellow students. Look at the staff —

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    The faculty. Now when you look all around, you see brilliance, you see beauty, you see bravery and you see also this beloved community. It is our community, it is your community, our beloved community. Now when I talk about beloved community, I’m talking about a concept expressed by three important activists and thinkers, Martin Luther King —

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    Grace Lee Boggs —

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    And bell hooks.

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    In 1956, a few years before he would stand on this stage before the Mount Holyoke community, Dr. King asserted, “Our goal is to create a beloved community and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” While King is widely known for his “I have a dream” speech, many are less familiar with how the concept of beloved community framed his concept of nonviolence. To King, it is a community that acknowledges that differences exist, but also is committed to engage with those differences, build empathy and conquer here.

Grace Lee Boggs, the Rhode Island-born daughter of Chinese immigrants and a graduate of Barnard and Bryn Mawr, affirmed her belief in beloved community. “Each of us needs to be awakened to a personal and compassionate recognition of the inseparable interconnection between our minds, our hearts and bodies. Between our physical and psychical well-being. Between ourselves and all of other selves, in our country and in the world.”

Audience member:    That’s right, Dorothy!

Crowd:    [laughing]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    We are all interconnected. My well-being is bound with yours and that means I am not alone and neither are you.

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    The black feminist intellectual bell hooks encourages us as she writes, “Beloved community is not formed by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation. By each of us claiming the identity and cultural legacy that shape who we are and how we live in the world.”

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    She goes on to say, “Our devout commitment to building diverse communities is central. Like all beloved communities, we affirm our differences. It is this generous spirit of affirmation that gives us the courage to challenge one another and work through this understanding.”

In beloved community, solidarity and trust are grounded in profound commitment to this shared vision. Community is a place for you to find your people, to find your allies and your co-conspirators. It is a place to question your assumptions, engage with people who are not like you, and work together towards understanding and mutual valuing. It is a place also to find your purpose and your passion. It is up to each one of us to uphold this beloved community. So that is why I’m going to challenge this community to look at each other in the eyes. And if you can muster up a hello, or at least a smile, because that says, “I see your humanity.” It says, “I recognize you. I see you, and we are in community together.”

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    So members of this beloved community, we are in this thing together.

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    We all have to do our part to make this place our home, our MoHome.

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    Where we can all thrive, where we can all learn from each other, challenge each other and be able to give each other grace. Beloveds, if we can do the hard work of making Mount Holyoke a community that is empathetic, diverse, equitable, inclusive here, just imagine what we can do out there!

Crowd:    [cheering]

DOROTHY MOSBY:    So my beloved community, let your beauty, your brilliance and your bravery shine all over the world like glitter. Thank you.

Crowd:    [cheering]

Choir:    [singing]

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL, FINANCIAL SERVICES:    Good morning everyone. I’m Rob Roll, budget analyst from financial services.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT, EVENT SERVICES:     And I’m Heather Tetrault, manager of conference and event services, and proud alum of the class of 2000.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Rob Roll and I are two of the 13-person Staff Council, which is similar to the Student Government Association in that we work together to make our community better for all of us. You met the rest of our team earlier handing out these [T-shirts], and now they’re up in the staff section with some of the 526 staff we have on —  

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    And on behalf of the staff, we’d like to welcome everyone to the beginning of the academic year.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    I have not been here at Mount Holyoke for that long, only a year and a half, so you could say that I’m a little green.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    It seems like a very short time compared to some of my colleagues. But I can tell you the staff wants to be here, loves to be here to help you, guide you and cheer you on on your journey. I have seen staff members bring in food for students, drive students to dental appointments —

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    And host students for Thanksgiving dinner.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    In fact, Heather does this every year.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    We are all in this together, whether you are here for a year, four years, or just a semester. The staff at Mount Holyoke will help you as much as they can, help the Mount Holyoke community to stay together and thriving. So take a moment to stop and say hi to that dining service staff, who is over at the green preparing lunch.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    That landscaper who keeps the campus so beautiful.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    Or the weird accountant guy who talks way too much about movies and how he thought the theme of this was about a sitcom on NBC.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    We want to meet and help you, whether it be assisting with registering for a class, helping you find materials for a research project or letting you know how many times it takes, makes a mile — it’s four, by the way. Four times around the outdoor track, eight times around the indoor track.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    It is a challenging time in the world, politically, mentally and spiritually, and it can all be very exhausting. But please look to us, the staff, to help you get through it. As Jane Austen said, it’s not what we say or think that defines us, but it’s what we do.

Crowd:    [cheering]

ROB ROLL:    Let’s go out there this year and show the world that when we stand together as a community, there is nothing that can stop us.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    And now a special message to the seniors.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Some words of wisdom that I’m sure the almost 70 other alumni staff on campus would agree with. There is this phenomenon that occurs your senior year. Time accelerates.

Crowd: [laughing]

And before you know it, we’ll be back here celebrating your commencement.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    To counteract this time warp, you have to be mindfully aware and slow down time by taking the time to be mindful and aware of yourself at this place in time, with our incredible community, as you can. Make as many memories with your friends and classmates while you are here. And I have a few suggestions — [crying]

Crowd:    Aww! [cheers, applause]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    [laughing]

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Linger over dinner conversations just a bit longer. Spend time in an Adirondack chair.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Find a new nook in the library.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Take another lap around Upper Lake, which, Rob, that’s one mile.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Go to as many events as you possibly can. My favorites include have fun at community M&Cs. Get to the top of that mountain on Mountain Day.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Have ice cream for breakfast on Founder’s Day.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Blow off steam at No-Study Zone.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Dance joyfully at Pangy Day.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    Create your own tradition. Above all, laugh and love as much as possible. Whatever it is you do, make sure to stop and appreciate these experiences. Moments like this one right now, because their memory will stay with you for a very long time.

Crowd: Awww! [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    And they will sustain you, they will sustain you in keeping, keep you going between graduation and reunions when you return to home. Okay? Special shout-out to my wife, Sheri Tetrault, who is a hard-working —

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    — hard-working Frances Perkins scholar. I love you. Three semesters left.

Crowd:    [cheering]

HEATHER TETRAULT:    To everyone, on behalf of Staff Council, we hope you have a remarkable year.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX, PRESIDENT, STUDENT GOVERNMENT ASSOCIATION:   

Hello, everyone. My name is Camille Gladieux and I’m —

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    I will be serving as your Student Government Association president for this academic year.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    I am so humbled to be standing here today with you all, on this very cloudy, overcast, humid day — you should all hydrate because it’s very important.

Crowd: [laughter]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    I would like to first offer a warm welcome to our first years, the class of 2021.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    A word of advice, try not to look Jorge and the Canadian geese in the eye. They will see it as a threat, and engage in a honking match. To the incredible sophomores in the class of 2020 —

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    The often-overlooked middle child, I don’t have much to say to you at all.

Crowd:    [laughing]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    Except, to demand that everyone recognize all of the things that you do this year.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    Class of 2019.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    Welcome to those of you that are back on campus. About a third of you will be abroad at some point this semester — this year, actually. And you will be missing more faces than you realize.

Crowd: Aww! [laughter]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:     A special shout out to our Frances Perkins scholars.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    Our transfer students

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    Our spring admits —

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    And to anyone who has no idea what their actual class year is.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    Lastly, but just as important as the rest of the other classes, our red Pegasi, the class of 2018.

Crowd:    [cheering] 2018! 2018! 2018!

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    I remember as if it were just yesterday that I walked through the gates of Mount Holyoke for my first year. There was a banner that read, “Mary Lyon saw you coming.”

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    I was perplexed by this phrase because, one, it’s a little creepy.

Crowd:    [laughing]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    But two, historically speaking, there’s no way for Mary Lyon to have seen me coming. As Chinese American, at the time Mount Holyoke was founded in 1837, the United States did not allow Chinese women to immigrate to the United States, let alone obtain a college education.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    This statement does not discredit the visionary work of Mary Lyon. She created a space for women that did not exist and sparked a conversation across the nation — and across the globe— about the importance of a woman’s education.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    Rather, I mention this to open up a dialogue about the historical legacy of institutions like Mount Holyoke College, that were built in a way that often kept people out.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    As I look out to our student body, I can guarantee you all that Mary Lyon could not have seen this coming.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    However, this does not mean that we do not belong here.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    We belong here.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    You all belong here. We range in race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, class, gender, sexuality, political identity, immigration documentation and so, so much more.

And this is what makes our school great. We are great because of our diversity in all of its forms. We chose Mount Holyoke, and Mount Holyoke chose us because we believe that we can change the world in both large and small ways. To do that, we must not only educate and challenge ourselves academically, but also how to be more socially and globally aware of our actions and their impact on communities different from our own.

This seems like a lot, I know. But to start that process, we need to start within our community. We need to ensure that our school is inclusive and accessible to all members of the community, regardless of gender — or non-gender —

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    Race, and physical or mental abilities.

Crowd:    [cheering]

CAMILLE GLADIEUX:    We need to be willing to engage in conversations that may make us uncomfortable, exhausted and frustrated. We need to do better, we need to be better. Mount Holyoke has changed from the first time I arrived, and I hope it will continue to change. We have had initiatives, such as the BOOM! conference, our first conference solely dedicated on diversity and inclusion on our campus, as well as hosted a multitude of diverse speakers from different backgrounds. Change is slow, but it still happens. So this year, I challenge us all to go beyond our comfort zone and build the community that we want to see. Thank you.

Crowd:    [cheering]

SONYA STEPHENS:    Thank you so much, Camille. Now I’ve just got a few reminders and then we’re going to sing the “Alma Mater.” So after we sing the “Alma Mater,” we’re going to go out first, and then the faculty are going to leave us. The seniors should remain here. This is your last class photo.

Crowd:    Aww!  

SONYA STEPHENS:    One of the last things, but it’s a joyful moment too, right? So, so stay in your seats for your very last photo. We invite all members of our community to join us for a picnic lunch on Skinner Green. And now it’s my very great pleasure to introduce Stephanie CCC, director of choral ensemble who will now lead us in the “Alma Mater.”

Crowd:    [cheering]