President H. Kim Bottomly's 2012 Charge to the Senior Class
Seniors, Class of 2012… You did it! Congratulations! After you walk across the stage in a few minutes and receive your diplomas, you will no longer be seniors. But you will always be the red, or I should say the “ruby” Class of 2012.
Today you are students. Tomorrow, you will be Wellesley College alums.
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.
This is a special moment. Hold on to it—you have much to be proud of.
Over the last four years, you have left your mark here, in ways that will benefit Wellesley for years to come. When you arrived in the fall of 2008, you helped us welcome a new dean of students. You challenged us to think critically about our model of diversity and inclusion, and you raised our awareness of gender identity. You also have helped us begin to reimagine our residence halls for future generations of Wellesley students.
Earlier this month, you again left your imprint when you decorated this campus high and low with red streamers, signs, and balloons. You reminded us that you were still here. You needn’t have worried. We will not forget you, ruby Class of 2012. And you will not forget Wellesley.
Don’t think of today as the day you leave Wellesley behind. There are places you can leave. But Wellesley is not one of them. Wellesley has helped define you, has influenced how you think and feel.
You will always carry a part of Wellesley with you. While your individual memories differ, your roots are here on campus—in the buildings, in the landscape. This campus has played an important role in your education and in your life. Your memories are defined by the campus and the people you have met.
The novelist and poet Lawrence Durrell wrote, “We are the children of our landscape; it dictates behavior and even thought in the measure to which we are responsive to it.”
Just look around you. Look at these historic buildings surrounding us here on the Academic Quad—the ornate architecture, the Galen Stone Tower. And further out, the roundabout paths that allow you glimpses of the lake when you least expect it, the rhododendrons in the small valley by the library, the sound of the carillon, stone bridges, secret passageways, the iconic lampposts barely lighting the path, the half-timbered Shakespeare House, the "spoon holders," the special nooks and crannies of campus that generations of Wellesley alums have discovered and enjoyed.
This place has shaped and guided you, just as your professors, your classes, your peers, and your experiences have influenced you.
Our founder, Henry Durant, intended it that way. He believed that the natural beauty of the landscape was an essential part of a Wellesley education. He put into practice what the Romantic poets believed—that there was education to be had in natural beauty.
Recall the classic lines of Wordsworth:
One impulse in a vernal wood
May teach us more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.
In fact, our campus as we know it today was formed on the principle that the buildings would be located atop or alongside the hills, rather than in the expected places, such as the meadows or valleys. The effect of such deliberate planning is that you come face-to-face with the natural beauty of campus every day. It has enriched and complemented your academic experience.
If I asked you to picture our campus in your minds, it would be a jumble of impressions. You might call to mind a special bench by Lake Waban, where you sat with a friend or with a book.
You might remember the weekly living room teas in your residence hall—or the ghost stories that pervade some of our dorms. You might think of the Chapel at night, the top floor of the Davis, the Pendleton Atrium, the Claflin Living Room with its Alice in Wonderland motif, or the stuffed animals in the Science Center. You might recall tunneling, or ice skating on Paramecium Pond.
Some of you made your first ever snowball here on Severance Green and then learned how to sled down the hill. All of you have experienced the sternness of winter and the welcome renewal of spring.
Remember the difficulty of navigating the campus your first year? The winding paths that didn’t ever seem to lead you where you wanted to go. Now you know. They have led you here today.
Every year I watch our alums come back to campus for Reunion. And I can tell that even after 50 years, stepping onto the campus is for them returning to a cherished and important place—a place that in many ways they have never really left. Things are different, yet somehow it is all just as they remembered it.
Last fall, Alice Friedman of Wellesley’s Art Department spoke to our Board of Trustees and said our “campus buildings have a family resemblance as a group, but are each individually distinct and special.”
As I look out at this class of smart, fabulous students, I see a family resemblance. You are Wellesley and no matter what you do or where you go, you will always be Wellesley. But like our campus buildings, you are also individually distinct. You are special. You have your own plans and your own goals. You are equipped by your Wellesley education and you are ready.
So my advice to you today is simple: Be what you want to be.
You have the ability, the preparation, and the determination to be what you want to be and not what others want you to be.
You know there is no one way to be successful. You have seen and spoken to alums who have had their successes in so many different realms. So my charge to you is: Have patience. The patience to figure out what you are good at. The patience to figure out what makes you happy. The patience to figure out what you don’t like. The patience to start over or alter your course after you figure out what you do like.
Take a lesson from our buildings. Some of our buildings have reimagined themselves. Other have not. Over there is Shakespeare House, built in 1898. It was built to be the Shakespeare House. It still looks the same. It still serves the same purpose.
Or consider instead the Durant’s old cow barn. Originally housing cows, it was turned into a recreation space for students in 1896 and then, after Alumnae Hall was built, it was renovated and turned into a dormitory—we know that cow barn today as Dower. A more radical change: Wellesley needed more room for students in the late 1940s. So they bought some prefabricated buildings from the Navy, put them on an empty lot, and called it Navy House. After new residence halls were constructed, Navy was rebuilt from the ground up into the College Club. Or look to the building right behind me. Over the door it says “Chemistry” and at one time it was chemistry, but now it houses art studios.
All of these buildings have ministered; all of these buildings have made a difference. You too have the foundation that will support many different interests. You must have the patience to discover the interest you want to focus on.
Don’t settle. Don’t compromise. Hear what others say, but live your life in accord with your passion, not theirs. Make your life be what you want it to be. That is the important thing.
And like some of our buildings, you don’t have to do just one thing your whole life. Like our buildings, you can be free to find a new purpose later, and to re-imagine yourself as they did.
Maybe that inspiration is partly why this campus and its buildings live so long in the minds of our alums. Wherever Wellesley graduates are in the world, whatever they are doing, they feel a strong connection to this campus. This place is the home base for our extended Wellesley family.
Wellesley has created a strong sense of place, a sense of belonging, for you—and that connection will stay with you long after today’s ceremony has concluded.
And when you do come back—and I hope you will return often—you will see that Wellesley is still Wellesley. It always will be.
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.