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Wellesley President H. Kim Bottomly gave her charge to the senior class at Commencement before the presentation of degrees.
Seniors, Class of 2014. We are here to celebrate you. I can’t believe you are leaving us. To me, it feels like you just arrived. Congratulations! After you walk across this stage and receive your diplomas, you will no longer be Wellesley students. However, you will always be the purple Class of 2014.
You have been a wonderful class. You are not just smart and well-educated, you are also marked by a great concern for social justice, for inclusiveness, for the well-being of the global community. Every generation must cope with the problems left for them by those who preceded them. We have left you some very large problems. I have no doubt you will address them and leave the world better than you found it. Your willingness to work hard, your comfort with technology, your global perspective, and your embracing of differences will make this possible. I know you will leave your imprint on the world, and we will be better for it.
Earlier this month, you left an imprint on campus. You decorated it high and low with purple—purple streamers, purple signs, and purple balloons, including the purple octopus in the Science Center. The fact that I am now the second person today to mention this octopus tells you just how impressive it was! We will long remember the purple Class of 2014.
During your time here, you have been an important voice on campus. We will miss that voice. While here, you have advocated passionately and thoughtfully for issues you believed in: increased diversity and inclusion, sustainability and climate change. You helped refine and add nuance to our discussions of gender identity, of safe spaces, of academic and artistic freedom.
The campus conversations we had weren’t always easy. There was more than one occasion when we found ourselves with a national—and international—spotlight shining on our campus. And there were times when our community felt divided—you remained dedicated to the conversation even when it was challenging.
Throughout your time at Wellesley, I have respected the way you consistently stood up for what you believed in. Thoughtful activism can be powerful.
Today, as you become a Wellesley alum—at this moment when you are poised between your past and your future—I am supposed to offer a charge to you.
I am supposed to tell you what you should be taking away from your years at Wellesley. Think about what a daunting assignment that is. Your years here have been full and diverse. What you have learned at Wellesley would take me until nightfall to begin to relate. And it would be different for each one of you.
You have studied history, investigated cultures, mastered languages, had many learned discussions of everything from Aristotle to Zeno, from astrophysics to zoology, from alienation to zeitgeist, passing through linguistics, modern art, and neurobiology on the way.
You have had an exceptional opportunity these past four years—an experience that will shape your life. As you go forward, it is important that you always remember. Remember what your liberal arts education here was like. Remember your small classes and how you were both challenged and encouraged by faculty who were simultaneously demanding and supportive. Remember being surrounded constantly by hundreds of the brightest peers in the world; remember learning to live in such a community; remember some of them becoming life-long friends. Remember being frustrated by very high expectations and elated by your achievements. Most importantly, remember that you were given the opportunity to experience a most valuable type of education, the kind of education that is becoming increasingly rare. You have achieved a level of knowledge and understanding possessed by very few in the world. Remember that the education you received—the degree you have earned—is a privilege and a gift. And remember that it is your responsibility now to pay it forward.
When I think of Wellesley, I think of Goethe who wrote: “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” So many of our graduates live by that precept. Goethe also wrote: “Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.” You can do that “most difficult thing in the world.” You all know how.
For the past 135 years, Wellesley graduates have been doing that most difficult thing, and the world is a better place because of Wellesley and the noble usefulness of our graduates. The world is better in a few large and well-known ways because of Wellesley graduates, but most importantly it is better in many, many very quiet and local ways as well.
As I have come to know thousands of Wellesley alums over the past seven years, I have come to learn that—as different as they all are—there is a commonality. They all remember their years here. They all strive to be nobly useful. We call that commonality "the Wellesley effect.
Your goal should be, as T.S. Eliot put it: “To do the useful thing, to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing.”
My charge to you then, members of the Wellesley Class of 2014, is to always remember what you have received here and to use it well, to use it nobly, to continue the Wellesley tradition, to perpetuate the Wellesley effect. It is not always easy to say the courageous thing, to contemplate the beautiful thing, to do the useful thing. It requires commitment; it sometimes requires risk; it requires confidence.
Seniors, the W experience will serve you very well as you serve the world.
As you make your way in the world, you will find that you are not alone, that you are supported by a powerful network of like-minded Wellesley alumnae. They are over 35,000 strong, and it is a network that spans generations and the globe. Take advantage of this network. Become part of this network, and in future years, return the favor and reach out to help new members of the network.
Eliot wrote in his “Four Quartets”:
Footfalls echo in the memory.
Down the passage which we did not take.
Towards the door we never opened.
Into the rose-garden.
Class of 2014, roses await you. Open that door. Take that passage.
No matter what your path is, or how you get there, I have no doubt you will make Wellesley proud.
Purple Class of 2014, tomorrow you will no longer be students. But remember this always: You are Wellesley. You will always be Wellesley. This will always be your campus. You will always belong here.
Thank you and congratulations.