President's Address

President Diana Chapman Walsh's Charge to the 1995 Senior Class

Well ... hearty congratulations to each and every one of you, members of the bright, yellow Class of 1995. You aren't decked out in yellow today, but you are radiant.

Some of you were certain from the day you first set foot on this campus that you would sail unimpeded through to this day.

Some of you felt a pang of doubt, once or twice along the way.

Some of you will still be pinching yourselves as you walk across this stage. You'll steal a furtive glimpse into your diploma case, just to be sure we haven't slipped you a blank.

All of you struggled, and suffered, and worked ... harder, often, than you thought humanly possible ... to reach this glorious goal.

And now that you're here -- paradoxically, after counting the months, and the weeks, and the days -- you almost wish you could sign on for another stint.

Cancel the class of 1999 (those pushy parvenues breathing down our necks), some of you have been saying to me.

Seduced by the new-found serenity of senior week, you think you might like to just circle around for another pass, take all those intriguing courses you couldn't fit in the first time through, stay with your friends in this beautiful place (now that the gray and chill of winter have been erased by the siren-song of spring).

Like the poet, Denise Levertov, some of you are suddenly thinking to yourselves ....

I need
more of the night before I open
eyes and heart
to illumination. I must still
grow in the dark like a root
not ready, not ready at all.

You are ready, and we are here to mark and celebrate your readiness, to send you forth with our pride and our love --on to more new beginnings. Incipit Vita Nova -- here begins a new life -- was the motto our founder, Henry Durant, selected (from Dante) for the college seal.

You began anew when you arrived here four years ago, and now you begin anew again as we send you forth, ready (yes, you are ready) to apply the skills, the knowledge, the insight, and the ambitions you have nurtured here into contributions that will make a difference.

This part of the program -- this President's "Charge to the Seniors" -- is a long-standing tradition at Wellesley. Although I'm very glad for the opportunity to salute you and bid you a last farewell, I'm not so sure that what you need right now is a "charge" from me -- go on out there and do great things for Mother Wellesley, write when you find work, and don't forget to bring home the bacon. You look charged up enough right now.

I have been thinking a lot these past few weeks about what you do need to hear from me ... during this final "teachable moment" as a captive audience of ours. There's danger in all that thinking, of course, because it has brought to mind so much I would like to be able to say to you before you go. Do you have a few more hours?

A young actor who was asked to give a speech (and was very uneasy about this unfamiliar communication medium) went to George Bernard Shaw for advice:

"How am I going to fit all that I know into a space of only ten minutes?" he wailed.

"If I were you, young man," Shaw replied, "I would speak very slowly."

So, I shall speak very slowly and shall try to curb the urge to inflict on you more than I know. But first, I want to say a brief word of congratulations to your families, and a brief word of tribute to our faculty and staff.

To the families of the Class of 1995 -- congratulations and our most sincere thanks for the loan of your extraordinary daughters. As (myself) the mother of a senior who will graduate this year -- two weeks from now .. (from another institution that shall remain nameless), I feel a special bond of kinship with the parents and families today.

You have much cause for celebration and satisfaction in your daughters' accomplishments. I know many of you have sacrificed greatly -- financially and emotionally -- to enable them to have these precious, formative, four years with us. I know first hand how much you have missed them, how hard it was to say good-bye when they left home on that September day that seems like only yesterday, and how proud you are of them on this glorious day.

I want you to know that your daughters have taken their obligations seriously. They have grown here by leaps and bounds, they have pushed us, themselves, and each another, they have made an indelible mark on this community (even though the outdoor ash cans they painted yellow have all been painted purple by the upstart sophomore class).

We won't miss the paint, but we are forever grateful for the gifts these women -- your daughters, granddaughters, sisters, cousins, mothers, friends -- have shared with us. I hope you will savor this moment, enjoy these graduates, be unabashedly proud of them. They deserve your flagrant pride, and so do you.

To the faculty and staff of Wellesley College (all who have worked to teach, to serve and to support these seniors in so many ways), we owe you a debt of gratitude for a job well done. Here are the fruits of your labors!

You created the safe -- yet challenging and demanding -- environments in which these graduating seniors could take risks and experiment. You lent a sympathetic ear when they were struggling. You held their feet to the fire when they were slacking off (did they ever do that?). You planted and patiently tended the seeds of self-confidence and self-knowledge that will continue to grow in these women for the rest of their lives.

Yeats said "education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire. " You lit that fire. We see it here today, and it will not go out. We thank you for your dedication, your wisdom, and your care.

To the seniors, finally, to the Class of 1995, you leave here with the pride of this institution, with our enduring affection, and with a standing invitation to come back -- as the ward politicians used to urge their constituents to vote -- early and often.

You will be back five years from now for the first of your class reunions -- in the Year 2000 (now there's an amazing thought). I have some hopes for what you will be saying then -- to yourselves and to your friends.

First, I hope you will say that you worked very hard after you left this place, that you continued to hold yourselves to the high standards I hope we have set for you here.

Wellesley women around the world and across the generations

have always demanded more of themselves
than they have of those around them,

have always been the kinds of leaders who
absorb pain and don't inflict it,

have always been women who find myriad
ways to serve and not be served.

I know this institution has planted that seed of service deeply within you too and I look forward to seeing all its beautiful manifestations as they issue forth.

Second, I hope that when you come back -- early and often -- you will tell us (and yourselves)

that you have stood for something in which you deeply believe.

Your four years at Wellesley have been tumultuous ones in many ways -- bracketed by two catastrophic events in our nation's history -- the explosion in Los Angeles in the spring of your first year and in Oklahoma City in the spring of your last.

Another Denise Levertov poem captures the challenges you have faced here and will face throughout your lives:

Living on the rim
of the raging cauldron, disasters

witnessed but
not suffered in the flesh.

The choice: to speak
or not to speak.
We spoke.

Those of whom we spoke
had not that choice.

At every epicenter, beneath
roar and tumult.

enforced:
their silence.

I hope you will always choose to speak for those whose silence is being enforced in the roar and tumult of the disasters of this world.

Third -- and last -- as you strive to live up (as I know you will) to all these expectations we harbor for you, and all the expectations you harbor for yourselves, I hope that you will cut yourselves a little slack.

I urge you to be forgiving, gentle, and compassionate towards yourselves. Don't struggle to get it all done and accomplished in the first five years -- or even the first ten, or twenty or fifty. Wellesley women are made of hearty stuff -- we're durable. I celebrated Marjorie Stoneman Douglas's 105th birthday with her this spring.

You'll have plenty of time to craft lives of significance. So take your time, enjoy your friends, enjoy your families, enjoy this beautiful world of ours, this amazing life. It is a precious gift. Don't let your relentless search for meaning drive the meaning out.

With that in mind, I leave you, finally, with these peaceful words from the Tao te Ching:

Do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.

If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.

There is a time for being ahead,
a time for being behind;

a time for being in motion,
a time for being at rest;

a time for being vigorous,
a time for being exhausted;

a time for being safe,
a time for being in danger.

The Master sees all things as they are,
without trying to control them.

She lets them go their own way,
and resides at the center of the circle.

I hope each and every one of you will find your way to the center of the circle. And I hope I'll find you there, some time in the future. Meanwhile, good luck, much love, and safe passage to you all.

Related

1995 Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching