2013 Commencement

President H. Kim Bottomly delivers her charge to the Class of 2013.

Now let me say a few words directly to the seniors.

Seniors, Class of 2013… Here you are at last!  Congratulations! After you walk across this stage and receive your diplomas, you will no longer be Wellesley students. But you will always be the green, or I should say the emerald, Class of 2013.

This is an important day for you and for your families and loved ones. You have been waiting a long time for this day. (Your parents have also been waiting a long time for this day!) Those final papers have been written; the last exams are over. That thesis you spent all year researching, writing, and rewriting is done. Everything is done—it is hard to believe.

Enjoy this moment. You worked hard for it. You earned it! You, your families, and your friends have every right to be proud. 

You are all accomplished individuals. Among the Class of 2013, we have Fulbright Scholars, a Watson Fellow, Wellesley’s first Whitaker International Fellow, a national champion runner, not to mention many others, including scholar-athletes, artists, musicians, scientists, philosophers, and debaters.

We treasure and encourage your singularity, your uniqueness—it is our collective strength. But today I want to speak of the importance of your togetherness.

You have been a wonderful class. Over the last four years, you have left your mark on campus in ways that we will always remember. When you arrived in the fall of 2009, you helped us launch a new collaboration between Wellesley, Babson, and Olin Colleges—and today we celebrate our first graduate who has completed the Three College Sustainability Certificate Program. You helped us think critically about issues of sustainability as well as diversity and inclusion.

You raised our awareness of gender identity, and you challenged us to think about our course offerings. You also helped bring back the wonderful Wellesley tradition of Founders Day.

Earlier this month, you left a brightly visible imprint when you decorated this campus high and low with green—green streamers, green signs, and green balloons.  You reminded us that you were still here. You needn’t have worried. We will not forget the green Class of 2013. And you will not forget Wellesley.

You arrived at the height of the economic crisis and you leave Wellesley at the height of the debate on gun control. Together, you learned about and experienced: the fiercely contested presidential election last November, the ongoing political unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa, earthquakes in Haiti and the tsunami in Japan, the BP oil spill, and many other global events that shaped your thinking and beliefs.

The importance of your togetherness became exceptionally clear this year when you came together after we lost one of our own, Adey Assefa, and also following the tragic events at the Boston Marathon. We turned to one another—we supported one another—because we are a community that cares deeply for one another. As a class, you have been through much together, and it has created an important bond.  The friendships you have formed here, the connections you have made and the relationships you have forged in this community—with your class, with those in your residence halls, with your professors, and with the staff you saw every day—those bonds are permanent. And, what you may not realize—those bonds are important, and will continue to be important, especially as you begin your journey.

And what an historic and exciting moment it is to be starting out! Fifty years ago—even 30 years ago for example—we could only dream about a woman U.S. Secretary of State. But in your lifetime, it has been a common occurrence for women to hold that high position. (Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that two-thirds of them have been Wellesley women!)

Indeed, you have grown up in a time when more and more women have held influential positions in national public office—as Supreme Court justices, as national security advisor, as attorney general… and yes, as senior advisor to the president of the United States.

Women have continued to reach important milestones in public office around the world. This year, we celebrated the swearing in of a record number of women in the U.S. Congress. Last year, we cheered as the French government achieved gender parity for the first time in its history.

Women increasingly serve as role models in the private sector as well: Marissa Mayer at Yahoo, Sheryl Sandberg at Facebook, Ursula Burns at Xerox, and Wellesley’s own Gracia Martore at Gannett.

Much progress has been made. But, you know as I do—and as Valerie Jarrett just mentioned—that there is still much work to be done to achieve gender equality.

Women represent half of the world’s population, yet less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies are led by women, and only 20 percent of parliament seats around the world are held by women. If we are to see positive changes in the world, we must develop, empower, and support women for leadership. 

You may not want to be secretary of state or an advisor to a president or a Supreme Court justice or a CEO. You may not know right now what you want to be. Your job is to figure out what you are good at and what you enjoy. In doing that you should know this: Whatever you want to be, it is possible. It is possible because of who you are and because of your Wellesley education. It is possible because of the women who came before you and the network of people who helped them.

Today you are Wellesley students. Tomorrow, you will be Wellesley alums—connected not only to your class of 600, but to the 36,000 Wellesley alumnae all over the world who, believe me, love to help out their fellow alums. In important ways, they are like you. As you meet them, you will notice your family resemblance. 

This network of women is considered the most powerful women’s network in the world. And it is yours to take advantage of. Use it. Become a part of it. Take from the network and then give back to the network to help the next generation of Wellesley alums. As you achieve your goals, help your younger and older Wellesley siblings achieve theirs. That is how it works. It has been working so well for so many years. Accept help from those who came before you, give help those who come after you—pay it forward. Make it an easier world for as many people as you can. Whatever you do, wherever you are: Be a force.

Few as they may be, the women who hold top positions in Fortune 500 companies or as heads of state haven’t gotten there by accident. They are where they are, in part, because they have benefitted from mentors and a network of support.

Whether you hope to have a career in the public sector or the private sector, whether you hope to be an entrepreneur or an artist, a scientist or a poet, you can’t do it alone. Groups are important; networks are crucial. Life is a collaborative activity. Be part of a group that challenges and inspires you, a group that supports you, a group that cushions your downs and cheers your ups. Support networks have long been crucial for women’s success.

Gender parity isn’t going to happen overnight, but we will get there. I hope that it will be in your lifetime. Alums helping other alums—utilizing our networks and connections—is one small way that we can get there faster.

Let me finish with these thoughts. Whatever you want to achieve, remember this:  Your goal is just a destination. The journey toward that goal is your life. Enjoy your life. Enjoy your journey.  

As you think about your future career and life—wherever your journey may take you—I urge you to greet new experiences with an open mind, because you never know where they’re going to lead. Barbara Lubin Goldsmith, Wellesley Class of 1953 and a recipient of a 2013 Alumnae Achievement Award, gives this advice:  “Take the first bus.” That is, grab that opportunity that comes your way and turn it into what you want it to be.

I can’t predict what path your life will take—nor can you—but I do know that on that path, you will likely bump into many Wellesley alumnae. You can count on that.  

Tomorrow you will no longer be a Wellesley student. But I want you to take this last thought and carry it with you always: You are Wellesley. You will always be Wellesley. This will always be your campus. You will always belong here. 

Thank you and congratulations.