M. Carey Thomas Award presentation at the 105th Annual Meeting of the Alumnae Association June 3, 2002

Nancy Vickers: Good morning, I would like to begin a very special part of this weekend's program—the presentation of the M. Carey Thomas Award to Mary Patterson McPherson. I can think of no more appropriate group with whom to share this occasion than with you, the alumnae of Bryn Mawr. Many of you met Pat for the first time in your student years. She was your Dean or your President. And even those of you who were already alumnae when Pat arrived at Bryn Mawr in 1961 are no doubt keenly aware of how much the College, and indeed higher education as a whole, have benefited from her leadership. We have an opportunity to honor this lifetime of achievement today.

And now I would like to turn the microphone over to Susan L. MacLaurin '84, President of the Alumnae Association, for a history of the M. Carey Thomas Award.

Susan L. MacLaurin '84:
Thank you, Nancy, and good morning everyone. The Alumnae Association created the M. Carey Thomas Award in 1922, the year President Thomas retired. The first award went to Thomas herself, and it has been given 17 times since. It remains to this day Bryn Mawr's highest honor, and is given jointly by the Association and by the College.

The language establishing the Award states that it is to be given to American women for eminent achievement. The list of recipients includes such leading intellects, artists, educators and social activists of the 20th century as Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eudora Welty, Georgia O'Keefe, and Marian Wright Edelman. Bryn Mawr has also recognized a number of its own brightest lights, including Marion Park, Marianne Moore, Katharine E. McBride, Millicent Carey McIntosh, Barbara Auchincloss Thacher, and Hanna Holborn Gray.

On a personal note, and I suspect a chord that will resonate with many, I would like to explain why I am so honored to be representing the Alumnae Association today. I could start with the fact that I worked in Pat's office as a senior and as a newly minted graduate. One of my first and probably largest responsibilities was to put in alphabetical order all of the books in President McPherson's office. There was actually no greater joy, and you would be surprised how many skills from that particular experience have come in handy in a business environment. What I will recall, however, in more detail, is the 5th Reunion of my graduating class, 1989. Pat spoke to us, gathered on the lawn behind Wyndham, in her voice that we knew and loved, about Tianaman Square, the atrocities occurring in a land somehow far away and not, occurring as we celebrated. By her example, Pat reminded us to be committed to the woman in the chair next to us, on the lawn, and yet to know our place in this world, to stand up against what is wrong in our society. Instilled in us was a sense of integrity and responsibility. As well, I believe it was a moment when the central purpose of a Bryn Mawr education could be said to take hold. If I might take the liberty of quoting Pat herself to expand: "Our central purpose must be to work for the freeing of minds from prejudice, from cant, from the particular ties of here and now. The freedom, however, is not easily won, and it will not be accomplished in a four-year period. In a real sense, all that we can teach you are the tools of learning. In all the rest, we are partners in the open-ended search for truth." (Page 24, A Century Recalled - Essays in Honor of Bryn Mawr College)

Nancy J. Vickers:
As Vice President of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Pat McPherson is one of the nation's most influential advocates and supporters of higher education, and of liberal arts colleges in particular. She is overseeing programmatic initiatives to help institutions share the cost and creative potential of new teaching technologies, to prepare for the surge in faculty retirements that so many of us are anticipating in the next decade, to comprehend and thus better support the full arc of a faculty member's development, and my list could go on. Her work will have a lasting effect on American higher education, and on generations of graduating students.

But even before she reached this pinnacle of national influence and achievement, Pat had secured her place in the pantheon of Bryn Mawr's greatest lights, and it is her history with Bryn Mawr and with all of us that makes this such a momentous occasion.

As I mentioned earlier, Pat arrived at Bryn Mawr in 1961. Those of you who remember the Fall 1997 issue of the Bulletin may recall her admission that in her youth, as a student at Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, she had written her papers in the Bryn Mawr library. Her sense of Mawrters then was that they were "a group of very serious-looking women," and when she had the chance, she went directly to Smith College for her undergraduate years.

She was able to remedy that situation, however, at age 25, when she found herself the senior member of the Philosophy department at the University of Delaware and the dean recommended that she get some graduate training. She came and talked with Milton Nahm, who convinced her to take on a bit of teaching here as well. And thus began Bryn Mawr's long and most fortunate association with its future sixth president.

As Dean and President, Pat guided Bryn Mawr through an era of rapid change and considerable challenge with great energy, great good sense, and great good humor. She understood the very special character of this institution: a first-rate liberal arts college with a strong tradition of graduate programs and an expectation of faculty scholarship that had made it, in effect, a very small university. During her tenure, Pat struggled with the tensions inherent in this combination and made some very difficult decisions with an eye to ensuring the College's financial health. She also successfully championed Bryn Mawr's cooperative relationship with Haverford through that school's transition to coeducation. The affection and loyalty she has inspired among generations of students and alumnae are built deeply into the fabric of the College's alumnae network.

I am not the first person to comment, too, on the remarkable way in which Pat McPherson's Bryn Mawr became a training ground for women presidents. Mary Dunn, Judith Shapiro, Michele Myers, and Peg Healy all left Bryn Mawr to become leaders of other institutions. And I must say I can personally attest to Pat's wisdom, generosity and strength as a mentor and colleague. When I arrived at Bryn Mawr, Pat handed off to me an institution in very sound shape, financial and otherwise. I am still impressed by her almost intuitive sense of how to pass on responsibilities that had been so very important to her. She is an invaluable resource to me, and as I have come to know and love the College, she continues to find just the right words of support, wisdom, advice, and even "firm suggestion" when I need them.

It is thus with tremendous personal and (speaking for all of us) collective gratitude, esteem and affection that I now ask Pat McPherson to join Susan and me on stage to receive the M. Carey Thomas Award.

Pat McPherson:
Nancy, Susan, members of the M. Carey Thomas Awards Committee, and all very good friends assembled here: this is a very special treat for me and I thank you very much indeed for this high honor that you do me and for including this event in this very lively occasion, which I always enjoy. It's been a great pleasure to see so many good friends this weekend. I cannot think of a nicer company to be invited to join than that of the previous winners of this prize, first awarded, as you heard, to M. Carey Thomas herself. When I was toiling in the Bryn Mawr vineyards, I would occasionally wonder how I might have fared with Miss Thomas - a complicated, difficult, genius of a woman who like most genuinely creative people, in her case an institution builder with a powerful vision, would not have been easy to work with. She was clearly not interested in the faint of heart or the weak-kneed, but I concluded that I really would have liked to have been able to have given it a shot. We are all the beneficiaries of that uncompromising vision that shaped the most independent, modern, demanding institution of higher education of its time, and it was done by and for women.

In my new life at the Mellon Foundation, I have to come to know most of the selective liberal arts colleges in the country very well. Most are very admirable institutions, committed to providing a liberating education to very able students, within a challenging residential setting, and they fufill their missions extremely well. But though I have, through this work, become even more convinced, if that is possible, that the selective liberal arts colleges provide the best education possible for bright, undergraduate students, I am also sure that Bryn Mawr's well-known rigor, tough academic standards, and serious expectations for her students, seen by even some of our own near and dear as perhaps from time to time too spare and tough-minded, is especially precious today, when pandering to the misnamed consumers of higher education has become in so many places an accepted reality.

Being part of this institution for so many years has been a tremendous pleasure for me as well a great privilege. The men and women who have cared about this special place from its beginnings are themselves an amazing band. Few of us could say that we had really met dull, uninteresting Bryn Mawr alumnae/i, or faculty, or staff or trustees in any number. In fact, take a moment to review in your own minds the marvelous characters associated with this college that have made it a place to enjoy, to take seriously and to return to over a lifetime, to see what I mean.

I thank you again for this splendid honor, for someone who came here as I did to take take only one graduate seminar on the way to some place else, it has been a stupendous ride, and I have loved almost every moment of it!

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