Congratulations to the Class of 2010! This is your day and you have worked hard for it. I think 2010 is a very special class and I have loved being part of your senior year—from our opening convocation, through months of nonstop activity like opening the Arnecliff studio, to a sunny and splendid May Day, and, finally, to a cruising dance marathon on the Delaware. I also feel very grateful to you for being such good sports about the renovations to Goodhart and Schwartz, and for engaging so thoughtfully in our community budget workshops last year. I have enjoyed celebrating the ‘new’ Goodhart with you this year, especially during the lively hours of spring plenary, and I look forward to your future visits to the ‘new’ Schwartz.
I invite you to look around at the community you have created at Bryn Mawr: friends and classmates, faculty and staff, all of us are part of your experience. Just like the knowledge you have gained here, this community will enrich your lives forever.
And a very warm welcome to parents, families and friends. Parents, thank you for entrusting your daughters and sons to Bryn Mawr. It has been a privilege to be part of their educational journey. We share your excitement and hopes for the lives they will lead and the contributions they will make.
Let me offer a special shout out to our graduate students who also receive their degrees today. You have enriched this academic community with your scholarship, your teaching and your field work. I hope that each one of you will stay closely connected to the College as you continue your professional and personal journeys.
We call this ceremony “commencement,” but I’ve never really cared for that designation. It implies that graduates are about to burst forth from the cloistered walls of academia to begin their lives in the “real world.”
That is hardly the case with Bryn Mawr, where you are very much part of the real world. Over the last four years, you have been deeply engaged with the significant events of our time, including an historic presidential election, the tragedy of two wars and a significant economic crisis.
You have identified and confronted critical issues in all their complexity. As volunteers, you have broadened your horizons, faced new challenges and devoted your skills and hearts to helping others. You have raised your voices and cast your votes, all the while demonstrating an aptitude for leadership that will serve you well in the years ahead. I was deeply impressed with your response to the devastating earthquake in Haiti. You organized, your advocated and you raised money for the relief effort. Next February, we will award the Katharine Hepburn medal to Helene Gayle, the president of CARE USA, who has been closely involved with Haitian assistance. I look forward to telling Dr. Gayle about the work you did this year and that I know many of your will continue to do in support of the reconstruction of this deeply damaged country.
Like generations of Bryn Mawr students, you leave this College as well-educated and engaged women and men, gifted with enlightenment and experience and empowered to make a difference in our world.
But the Class of 2010 also has a unique distinction: you graduate in the 125th year of this college. In 1885, Joseph Taylor faced opposition and mockery when he founded Bryn Mawr. At that time, prominent educators still debated whether education was wasted on women. Some doubted that women had the intellectual and physical capacity for academic rigor. (SWSW)
Our first president, James Rhoads, and his Dean, M. Carey Thomas, were unfazed by opposition, and as a result Bryn Mawr made no compromises. It offered undergraduate and graduate studies that were most assuredly on a par with the education men received. Bryn Mawr challenged the prejudices of the 19th century and set the standard for academic achievement for women throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. That animating vision for Bryn Mawr is reinvigorated every year by students like you. It is sustained by the alumnae you now become and will continue to guide Bryn Mawr for as long as we can imagine.
We are the beneficiaries of courageous acts that secured for women the right to education, and now I believe Bryn Mawr has a responsibility to act on behalf of millions of girls and women throughout the world who still lack access to education.
According to the United Nations, 72 million children who should be attending primary school are not enrolled, and almost 60 percent of them – 43 million children -- are girls. The problem is acute in developing nations, where girls are denied education due to poverty, gender bias, violence, and armed conflict, as well as the limits imposed by traditional cultural roles and expectations.
Girls who can’t attend school endure a cycle of poverty, dependency, and exploitation. All too often, they are subjected to abuse and discrimination that is quite unimaginable to us. This was the theme of a short seminar course that I taught this spring in which we read Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, a book written by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.
WuDunn and Kristof paint a devastating portrait of the oppression of women and girls in places around the globe. Their report would be beyond heartbreaking if they did not also show us what is possible – how investing in education and opportunity for women not only can transform individual lives but can also unleash the economic potential of half the world. The authors call the struggle for gender equality “the paramount moral challenge” of this century.
In 2000, world leaders recognized this powerful link between economic and social progress and the education of girls and women. In an effort to address the globe’s most urgent development challenges, they committed to eight Millennium Development Goals, with gender equality and empowering women as an important one of these. Since then, many nations have made notable progress, yet the target of eliminating gender disparity in education by 2005 has yet to be achieved.
I believe that Bryn Mawr has a contribution to make in this effort, so in September, we will mark our 125th year by hosting a conference entitled “Heritage and Hope, Women’s Education in a Global Context.”
Women leaders and scholars from Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, India, Japan, Kenya, Bangladesh, and South Korea will join in conversation with U.S. academics, students, alumnae and activists. Together, we will explore strategies to extend equity and access to education. We will consider how women’s colleges can work with human rights and social justice organizations to promote women’s economic and educational opportunities.
There are no quick or easy solutions to complex problems. But I found myself inspired yesterday by the example of our convocation speaker, Nobel laureate Jody Williams. Jody had passion and commitment and not much else when she took on the global challenge of landmines. Yet she was able to awaken the conscience of the world to the landmine threat, and she has moved us all a step closer to peace.
One of our graduates, Emily Greene Balch, concluded her own Nobel speech, delivered in April 1948, with words that remain remarkably relevant. Speaking in the aftermath of the Second World War, Balch said:
As the world community develops in peace, it will open up great untapped reservoirs in human nature. Like a spring released from pressure would be the response of a generation of young men and women growing up in an atmosphere of friendliness and security, in a world demanding their service, offering them comradeship, calling to all adventurous and forward reaching natures.
We are not asked to subscribe to any utopia or to believe in a perfect world just around the corner. We are asked to be patient with necessarily slow and groping advance on the road forward, and to be ready for each step ahead as it becomes practicable. We are asked to equip ourselves with courage, hope, readiness for hard work, and to cherish large and generous ideals.
Graduates, as you begin the next stage in your lives, I trust you will find the issue, cause, or passion that engages you, heart and soul. Whatever path you choose, you’ve made a great start on this campus. You will be remembered and you will be missed.
16 May 2010
“Getting girls into school: a development benefit for all,” International Initiative for Impact Evaluation, (www.3ieimpact.org), May 2009