Incipit Vita Nova

December 2, 2016

I write to you a few weeks after the beginning of the academic year, with all the excitement and promise that it brings. When the red class of 2020 arrived on campus, I walked the busy corridors of the residence halls, greeting the exuberant new members of our community and their proud families. I discovered just how spirited the class of ’20 is after convocation at Stepsinging, when they briefly “stole” me away from the seniors to join them in their section of the amphitheater, before the seniors “stole” me right back. (Seniority has its privileges, after all.)

It has been a great pleasure to begin to get to know our students, faculty, staff, and alumnae, and to take part in these traditions that bind the community together, across time and generations.

In addition to becoming familiar with the daily rhythms, places, and songs of the College, I’ve also had the opportunity to think about Wellesley and the big picture. My inauguration celebrated connections at Wellesley College. When we connect, we come to new insights, create new knowledge, and generate new opportunities. These connections and intersections are fundamental to who we are, and are crucial for the advancement of women in the world. They are also at the core of the liberal arts education that Wellesley students receive.

The power of intersections was beautifully on display during a series of presentations, performances, and panels by Wellesley faculty and alumnae. To give just one example, associate professor of sociology Smitha Radhakrishnan used Indian dance forms and spoken word to interpret a passage in Toni Morrison’s Beloved in which Sethe, a runaway slave, gives birth alongside a river. Morrison considers spores of bluefern growing in the hollows of the riverbank: “seeds in which the whole generation sleeps confident of a future. And for a moment it is easy to believe each one has one—will become all of what is contained in the spore: will live out its days as planned.”

This passage touches on issues that are at the heart of feminism and human rights, especially as they relate to motherhood. Radhakrishnan explained that her performance grew out of her engagement with transnational feminism’s efforts to bring together theory and practice. “It is my belief that artistic expression through dance has the potential to convey the ethical and political convictions of my scholarship to a broader audience than my academic writings,” Radhakrishnan said. It was extraordinary to witness Radhakrishnan’s unique interpretation of the deeper meaning of Morrison’s words. Again and again, as I listen to members of our community and learn about their work on campus and around the world, I find myself thinking, “This could only happen at Wellesley.” This, I am discovering, is the Wellesley effect.

Another example of—and propagator of—the Wellesley effect is our new, re-imagined career education initiative, made possible by an extraordinary gift from two dedicated Wellesley alumnae.

One of the most important and exciting aspects of our new career education model is that it is designed to be in service to a liberal arts education. That may sound paradoxical, but here’s why it’s not: A lot of the pressure students feel about the future stems from a lack of information. With clearer guidance, we believe they will feel new freedom to explore their passions—or what may become a passion. And this resource doesn’t stop at graduation. Our new model will provide customized services for you, our alumnae, throughout your life journey, with connections and communities at its core. As you move through your varied, winding careers, I hope you will take advantage of opportunities for mentorship and engagement among students, alumnae, and the entire Wellesley network.

I also hope to continue to connect with many of you personally this year, and learn about your hopes and wishes for the College. I was overjoyed to meet so many of you at my inauguration and on campus at Nov. 8’s election watch party, (Expect more thoughts on Hillary Rodham Clinton ’69 and her historic run for president in a future column.) And when I see those of you who are celebrating reunion this June at Stepsinging, I hope to know the tunes and lyrics to our favorite Wellesley songs. As I discovered after convocation, like many things at Wellesley, Stepsinging has a “certain magic charm.”