This graduating class will always be very special to me. You opened your arms and offered a welcome that made this first year of my presidency at Bryn Mawr one of the happiest times of my life. The many opportunities to be with you, whether in groupings of graduate or undergraduate students, have been a highlight of this inaugural year. I’ve enjoyed hosting you at various receptions, at Dorm Desserts and with dinners at Pen y Groes. The chance to watch you in action in the classroom, on the gym courts and playing fields, in the performance spaces—some cleverly improvised this year—has been a revelation. You, the graduates of 2009, are a multi-talented, high energy and accomplished cohort – and as you celebrate Bryn Mawr’s traditions, you’ve taught me how to have a great, good time!
While we honor your individual accomplishments today let’s make sure that we also celebrate your collective accomplishment, the extraordinary community that you, the graduates of 2009, have created. As a newcomer to Bryn Mawr, I have observed, reflected upon and been deeply impressed by how central the concept of community is to this College. In your years here, whether as undergraduate or graduate students, you have crafted a community that values the voice of every individual, that accepts and encourages responsible decision-making, that consciously undercuts the forces of competitiveness which seem ever more dominant in our society, that strives to balance both individual autonomy and collective good. Woven through all that you have learned here, your years at Bryn Mawr have been an extended course in community-building, a conscious cultivation of the talents that we all need to live as world family. This has not always been easy work. There have been moments of stress and times of tension. But you have taken these experiences and used them, forthrightly addressing the misunderstandings and insensitivities that can occur, and building even stronger bonds of respect and mutuality.
Latin American liberation theologians of a generation ago liked to speak of ‘base communities’, small, intense and intentional groupings of people which could model the freedom and egalitarianism that the larger society still denied. In many ways, you have built a ‘base community’ at Bryn Mawr, a living laboratory of communal life with all its tensions and triumphs. Each one of you has become adept at reflecting upon and living out what a strong, supportive and diverse community can mean for human growth and flourishing.
At Bryn Mawr we are blessed in our variety and diversity and we are formed and instructed by it. Students from every part of this country and from all over the world come to live and to learn here. Our faculty and staff replicate the same breadth of background. Together we are a microcosm of the world community and an incubator for the America that we are fast becoming. You have welcomed this diversity within your daily lives not with a grudging toleration, not with demands for accommodation or acculturation, but with celebration. Take that spirit with you. In whatever places and professions you find yourselves, be the person who understands that difference is a plus, that multiple perspectives enrich our discourse, that polyphony produces glorious sound. So much of our world continues to fear diversity, seeks to erase difference, refuses to engage with the other, retreats into a blinkered isolationism. You can counter this. You can open dialogue. You are prepared to lead because of what you have learned and lived at Bryn Mawr.
And the community that you have created here does not dissipate and disappear with your commencement. Rather, it expands and merges into the worldwide community that is Bryn Mawr across the globe. You are now entering an alumnae network that is more than 20,000 strong and that network is eager to welcome you. Throughout this year, I have been hosting receptions for alumnae across the country. In January, I met with alumnae in London; next month I will gather with alumnae in Istanbul. Visualizing Bryn Mawr’s worldwide reach, I’m reminded of those wonderful airline route maps, with hundreds of lines arcing out from a single hub. Wherever you live and wherever you go, you can connect with this global community of extraordinary women and men. They are Bryn Mawr’s continuing gift to you. With your active involvement in this worldwide alumni/ae network and your continuing support of the College, this can be a gift that keeps on giving, a gift that you pay forward.
Finally, the community that you have created here spans not only space but time. As graduates of 2009, you are linked to earlier classes and are yourselves our link to the future. In the 2010-2011 academic year, Bryn Mawr College will mark its 125th anniversary and we have already begun planning for this. Ours is an extraordinarily proud heritage and this milestone is cause for capacious celebration. The generations of women—and men—whose lives have enriched this campus afford you an extraordinary legacy. As the newest graduates of Bryn Mawr, your’s is a rich lineage. You can now trace your academic ancestry back to superb scholar/teachers, both past and present, who have shaped the outstanding departments and programs that have nurtured your own intellectual development. You share a history and a love of place with generations of students who have studied in these classrooms, lived in these dorms, danced around these Maypoles, and cherished the lanterns lit for them on a special night.
As you cross this stage today to receive your bachelors, masters and doctoral degrees, I will enjoy the honor of congratulating each one of you in person. As I do so, I will be celebrating your individual achievements and I will be celebrating the community that you have created at Bryn Mawr. May it equip you to build similar communities of inclusive inquiry and generous fellowship wherever you go. May this special schooling be our legacy to you as you join the lineage of remarkable Bryn Mawr graduates.
Jane Dammen McAuliffe
Bryn Mawr College
17 May 2009