Congratulations to our seniors, to our MA and PhD recipients and to our graduates in social work. On behalf of Bryn Mawr College, it is a great joy to celebrate each one of you for all that you have accomplished at Bryn Mawr and for all that you have contributed to the College. Today continues and culminates several recent events that honor your achievements, including the academic awards ceremony on April 19th and the Athletics Association banquet on May 1st.
As I begin these remarks, I’d like to say a few words directly to our seniors. It's a little hard to know where to start because part of me feels that I should be sitting there with you, wearing a cap and gown as a member of the Class of 2012. I arrived on this campus as its new president about six weeks before you did. I remember vividly the first time I met you as a class. You were sitting expectantly--and a bit nervously-- with your parents in Thomas Great Hall. I welcomed you to a college that I was just barely getting to know myself. Later that fall we enjoyed the particular magic of Lantern Night when I was privileged to process into the Cloisters with you, rather than simply joining the audience as I have done in subsequent years. Then, of course, with the arrival of February, Hell Week was upon us and I fell for it hook, line and sinker. As I recall, our first May Day together was rather chilly but nothing could diminish the pleasure of enjoying its fun and frolic with you.
In the years that followed, we have shared good times and good conversations at Pen y Groes Seminars and Senior Dinners. We've carved pumpkins together for Halloween and danced our way down the Delaware River during last Monday's boat cruise. The number of faculty members who were enticed to join that cruise is itself a tribute to the energy and spirit you have invested in Bryn Mawr.
Yet for all of us gathered here today, for our graduates from the College, from the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and from the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research these have been years of extraordinary global change. This country inaugurated its first African-American president and applauded his reception of the Nobel Prize for Peace. We cheered the freedom uprisings that swept across North Africa last spring and summer and we celebrated the release of Aung San Suu Kyi (Oun saan suu chee) from many years of house arrest. Simultaneously, however, we have lived through the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and mourned the thousands and thousands who have suffered from wars and natural disasters in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Haiti, Japan, Pakistan, and so many other places.
Each one of you chose to pursue your preparation for this challenging world, whether as undergraduate or graduate students, at a school that proudly holds the education of women to be its core mission. Whether this was a major factor in your choosing Bryn Mawr or you made the choice chiefly for other reasons, during your years on campus many prominent women have preceded the extraordinary humanitarian from whom we have heard this afternoon. In 2009 we awarded the Katharine Houghton Hepburn medal to Jane Golden, an artist who has made Philadelphia’s public art her life’s work. Two years later we honored the HIV/AIDS prevention and Haitian relief efforts of Helene Gayle with the same medal.
Our stages have showcased many who have dedicated their lives to fighting for social justice and social change, like Lily Ledbetter, Angela Davis, Jody Williams and Regina Benjamin. We heard from Nancy Hopkins, a molecular biologist at MIT who has done so much to promote gender equity for women scientists. We welcomed Shirley Tilghman, Sally Mason and Nancy Cantor, scientist presidents of Princeton, University of Iowa and Syracuse.
We’ve heard from performing artists like Judith Jamieson and Meredith Monk, from writers like Jumpha Lahiri, Alice McDermott and Karen Russell.
This year we enjoyed a riveting series of lectures by the most renowned gender theorist of our generation, Judith Butler. The first ambassador for global women’s issues, Melanne Verveer, was the keynote speaker for the international conference with which we celebrated our 125th anniversary. And just a few months ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed an international group of women leaders that included Bryn Mawr students, faculty and alumnae as we launched the State Department/Seven Sisters Women in Public Service Project.
These are not all the women of creativity and courage who have graced our campus. Many other scholars, activists and artists have contributed to the intellectual and cultural life that has shaped your years at Bryn Mawr. We have also heard, of course, from many splendid speakers who carry the Y chromosome. But for the moment I would like to keep our attention focused on the names I have mentioned and I would like to do so for a very simple reason. You—all of you who are graduating today—are their successors. Yours will be the voices of courage and creativity for the next generation. Each of the remarkable women from whom we have heard in recent years has been an important voice for women’s empowerment. Each has found a way, as an artist, a scholar, an activist, a business person or a public servant, to speak for those women in our world who continue to suffer systemic discrimination and cultural oppression, who lack the access to education and opportunity that you enjoy. Whether you have studied classical archeology or computer science, whether your degree will be in social work or Spanish, as a graduate of Bryn Mawr you are prepared to add your voice to those that support the global advancement of women. You are prepared to be the leaders whose words will be heard, whose ideas will matter and whose actions will create the change that our world so urgently needs.
12 May 2012