President's Address

Diana Chapman Walsh's 1998 Charge to the Senior Class

Well, my charged up sisters in the purple class of 1998, we are fast approaching the point of culmination.  The moment has come now for me to bid you good bye and good luck.

This is a bittersweet moment for those of us you are leaving behind.  We will miss this class of '98, your spark and your spirit.  And I know from our conversations that many of you are leaving with your own mixed feelings: great excitement intermingled with just a touch of apprehension about what your future may hold, and a sense of loss as you take your leave from your friends, your professors and this beautiful campus that has been "home" for the past four years.

This section of the program is the traditional president’s “charge to the seniors”—the president’s last official opportunity to address you as Wellesley students.  (You don’t have your diplomas yet; I still have your attention).  Soon you will join the ranks of Wellesley alumnae.  You’ll fan out all over the country, all over the world – indeed, as we now know, into the solar system – and you’ll begin to work the magic you have worked here.

My heart is full of things I want to say to you in this moment laden with meaning and with expectation, in this momentary pause in your life’s journey from challenge to challenge, from lesson to lesson, from strength to strength. 

I want to tell you how grateful we are for each of you, for who you have been and who you are becoming, for the many talents you have brought to this place, for your energy and your commitment, for your creativity and the countless ways you showed us that you cared.

I want to tell you how hopeful we are for the difference we know you will make in this world that so badly needs the gifts you now carry forth.  During your four years here – as throughout history – people all over this country and this world have fought, killed, abused, neglected, and harmed one another, brutally and inconceivably, day after day, brutalities so commonplace that we become inured to them.

And, at the same time, other people – often unheralded – have patiently persevered in setting the world right, in protecting the weak and powerless, in preserving those things that are beautiful, irreplaceable, good and true.  I know you will align your lives with stewardship for the future – taking up your places behind women like Marjorie Stoneman Douglas, Wellesley ’12, who died last week at the age of 108,  having spent her entire life campaigning to save the Everglades.  Knowing that you will carry on gives us hope.

I want to tell you how ready you are, how well equipped for this next stage of your journey.  You take a cargo that will serve you well – the ability to read critically, write persuasively, speak cogently, reason analytically, a knowledge base from which to think historically, spatially, cross-culturally, comparatively, and (not least) with empathy.  You take habits of mind that will always remain fundamental to your sense of self – a habit of questioning assumptions, avoiding bias, prejudice, and rigidities of thought, a habit of learning – forever learning, never give that up – of listening well and always imagining the ways you may be wrong.  And you take the incomparable treasure of the extraordinary women – your Wellesley sisters from all over the country and the world – in whose company you have spent the past four years.

I want to tell you to stay in touch with each other and with us.  As you prepare now to commence the next stage of your lives – to continue your education, to begin careers, to put down our roots and build families and communities – you do so companioned by Wellesley sisters who will before long become visible in universities, businesses, the professions, and civic affairs around the country and in distant parts of the world.  These connections will remain an extraordinary resource for you.  Keep them alive, cultivate and nurture the bonds – and values – you share.

I want to tell you to be patient with all that is unresolved in your hearts.  There will be hard times ahead, just as there have been here, times when you will feel as though you have lost your way, lost your grasp of the meaning of it all, lost your belief in yourself.  Often those painful times are the sources of greatest learning. You will feel like a fraud sometimes, someone who doesn’t belong, someone in over her head – feelings I know you have experienced on occasion here. 

But also you have experienced here your largest, fullest self – a person of intellectual passions, promise, and discipline, a person who honors diversity, embraces ambiguity, practices honesty, experiences humility, and exercises great care for the things you value most.  You have memory anchors rooted in this place for that person of integrity.  When you feel lost you can call them forth.  Those anchors in memory will remain here for you throughout your lives.

Finally, I want to urge you to relax, take your time, keep your balance and perspective.  I know how hard it is to you to hear that message now, in this hyper charged world that awaits you impatiently, so it seems.  With everything moving so fast it is excruciatingly difficult to hold to the belief that life is long and there is time.

To anchor that message in a more concrete reality, I bring you, in closing, greetings from 50 years out, from the class of ’48.  In anticipation of their 50th reunion next week, they filled out a survey developed by Judith Krantz, the bestselling author, who (you may not know) is a member of that Wellesley class.

One of the questions she asked her classmates to address was for you – their “best single piece of advice” on the occasion of your graduation.  I wish I could read you all of what they said, across this span of half a century of post-Wellesley experience.  I can tell you that many counseled you to give yourselves some margin for error, be comfortable with yourselves, to savor life’s small pleasures, keep your sense of humor, reach for your dreams and yet be ready to change, “play the hand you’re dealt with patience, strength, courage and good cheer”, one wrote.  Learn to prioritize.  “You can have it all, “ several said with the wisdom of hindsight, “just not all at once.”

“Take your time finding out what you want to do with your life,” another wrote.  “try out many things; don’t panic and make a commitment too early.  I took me 20 years and a number of false starts to find the right kind of teaching and the perfect setting for me. But I found it.”  Second choices are sometimes excellent choices.” another wrote as she described a series of life choices she had made; “flexibility is essential to a happy and productive life.”  “Know yourself, like yourself and always be yourself.”

“Enjoy every precious moment of your life and loves, keeping all that you hold dear very tenderly in your heart,” another said, and two wanted you  to remember that it’s more important to love than to be loved.  “Know that it is better to love well than to guard a  fearful heart, “ another added.  “I’m not a religious person,” said another, “but I often think of those great gold letters in Wellesley’s chapel which proclaim that ‘God is Love’.  I have found that to be extraordinarily true.”

These older Wellesley sisters urge you to find balance in your lives, to work and be proud of your accomplishments, to achieve the utmost without expecting too much of yourselves or others, and to have friends and loved ones whom you trust.  They hope you will discover, as they have, “the simple truths that everyone – each one of us – is born both gifted and handicapped.  It is up to us to celebrate the gifts and help each other with the handicaps.”  They especially hope (as I do) that you will never forget “our Wellesley motto,” to serve and not be served.

And finally, they want you to know how impressed they are with you.  One spoke for many when she wrote on her survey form, “the recent Wellesley graduates I meet fill me with awe.  With their calm collectedness, sense of timing and direction and their accomplishments, it’s they who should be giving the advice to us, not we to them.”

Fifty years from now it will be you giving the advice, reading your classmates’ accounts of twists and turns in their lives, of their triumphs and passions, sorrows and disappointments, all they have learned and the work that absorbs them still.

May the years ahead be filled with much joy and happiness, many successes and satisfactions, many Wellesley connections and many visits back to campus. 

We’ll miss you Class of ’98.  You go with our admiration, our aspirations for the future and the pride of this institution – you go wit hour best wishes and with our love.  Godspeed to you all.

Related

1998 Pinanski Prize for Excellence in Teaching

Read the full citations.