2020 Senior Celebration Address

May 31, 2020
Watch this speech

First of all, let me say this: congratulations, congratulations, congratulations! 

Red class of 2020, you are extraordinary. Take a moment and let that sink in. You’ve reached the same finish line as previous classes, but done so during a pandemic. During a pandemic. With this strangest of all graduations, you take your place in history. 

Congratulations, also, to all who have supported our new graduates on their journey. Family and friends, teachers, mentors, and allies. In so many ways, you have made this moment possible.

Finally, I want to remember and honor a beloved member of this class who’s no longer with us. Two years ago, Sama Mundlay passed away in a road accident in Amsterdam, where she was planning to study. In Judaism, my husband’s faith, there is a prayer, “May her memory be a blessing.” For all who knew and loved her, Sama’s memory is a blessing. Each of you carries her spirit with you. This moment is hers, too. 

Today, 569 of you embark on a new life chapter as Wellesley alumnae, and for all the distance between us, I feel closer to you than ever. 

Four years ago I stood before you for the first time, a new college president. I wore red beneath my academic robes at convocation, as I do today. I’ve always thought of you as my class. Even then, I found myself imagining what this day would look like. 

I envisioned lots of things—but I never could’ve imagined this. Your final year on campus, cut short by a global pandemic. Commencement postponed. I refuse to say canceled, as we will revisit this. Me speaking to you by video, you scattered all over the globe. Today marks a stunning conclusion to a turbulent four years. Starting with your very first fall on campus and the 2016 elections. 

But today I want to focus not on where you’ve been, but on who you’ve become. The pandemic has only thrown into relief how truly remarkable you are. 

It’s often said that a liberal arts education prepares students to thrive through uncertainty and change. That this is its greatest gift. Through this lens, you might say that the past few months have been the mother of all capstone projects. They tested you in ways that you could not have been tested before. At every turn, you came through with flying colors. 

In short order, you packed up and moved off campus and yet somehow still found time to hold an unofficial “fauxmencement,” an event so moving that it was chronicled in the pages of the New York Times. 

You found new and creative ways to sustain the traditions that make Wellesley, Wellesley: a virtual Scream Tunnel on marathon day, despite no marathon; a virtual Earth Day celebration featuring Wellesley poets. 

You made the leap from classroom to online learning, while also facing so many challenges, barely missing a beat. You continued to engage in activism. And yes, I have the letters to prove it. 

All of this is compelling proof of your strength and resilience. Class of 2020, if I know anything, I know this: You are ready—more than ready—for whatever comes next. 

The degrees you receive today are a testament to four years of hard work, discovery, growth, and challenge. For the rest of your life, they will open doors to a future you can’t yet imagine, to new opportunities and new friendships, new ideas, and new options. 

They also mark your entry into the vast and endlessly inspiring community of Wellesley alumnae, a global network of some 36,000 strong. Many of you have already felt its impact—through internships, mentorship, and other activities—and it will only grow stronger with time. Whatever your path, you’ll find siblings eager to help you. 

All of which is to say that you are set for the journey ahead. You have worked hard to equip yourselves to make a difference in the world. Now you must answer this question: What kind of difference will you make? 

You will have no shortage of options. The pandemic has shone a harsh light on some of the world’s most urgent problems: the widening chasm between rich and poor, the displacement of science by special interests and viral disinformation, the ways that race and gender limit options and threaten life itself. 

This last one hit home for all of us last month, with the death of Rana Zoe Mungin, Wellesley class of 2011, affectionately known at Wellesley as Zoe. A gifted writer and middle school teacher, Zoe died of COVID-19 after a month on life support, having twice been refused testing. Did the fact that she was a young Black woman affect her quality of care? While we may never know for sure, it seems all too likely. 

Each of you has a role to play in tackling this kind of injustice. This is true for every graduating class, but especially for yours. 

“There’s a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given, of other generations, much is expected. This generation has a rendezvous with destiny.” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke these words more than 80 years ago to a nation in the grips of a Great Depression, at a time when fascism was on the rise around the world. He might as well have said them to you. 

The challenges you face are every bit as great. So are your capacities. In you, I see the seeds of our greatest generation yet—a cadre of moral leadership with women in the vanguard. 

In this crisis is an opportunity to recreate the world. You are both the future and history in the making. 

Class of 2020, you are on your way. And once again, congratulations.