President H. Kim Bottomly's 2015 Charge to the Senior Class
Seniors—Class of 2015! Congratulations! Enjoy the moment. You have earned it!
It seems like just yesterday that I was welcoming you, the new yellow Class of 2015.
Whatever words you choose to describe your years at Wellesley, I know you will always feel a deep connection to this special place because of the strong friendships you have formed, the intellectual growth that you have experienced—and all the little things that make Wellesley Wellesley: things like Hooprolling, Flower Sunday (big and little sisters), Lake Day, the Scream Tunnel.
And this year, sledding down Severance Green, and sledding down Severance Green, and for months and months, sledding down Severance Green. Enjoying the Kathryn Davis Swing on the Chapel Lawn, or jumping in Lake Waban for the first time (or second or third time).
You have been a wonderful class—and you were never shy about advocating for issues you believe in. I am grateful for the way you helped refine and add nuance to our discussions of gender identity, of academic freedom, freedom of speech and artistic expression, of racial inequality and equity, of sustainability and climate change.
You left your mark on this place in many, many ways. You embraced our traditions. Your class had the highest turnout in memory for Hooprolling (on that chilly Saturday morning.)
You also have the distinction of being the very first class to have its Hooprolling documented by “a hovering drone.”
Just a few weeks ago, you creatively decorated the campus high and low with yellow—a big yellow Magic School Bus and Pac-Man in the Science Center, SpongeBob SquarePants in Green Hall, and the many yellow balloons and streamers that dotted our campus. Wherever we turned, we were reminded of you, the golden Class of 2015.
On a meaningful day like today, I cannot help but think of my own college graduation from the University of Washington.
That same year, here at Wellesley, the graduating “College Government President”, Hillary Rodham, was giving the very first student speech at Wellesley’s Commencement—a tradition that we proudly continue today.
My own college experience was very much influenced by the 60s, as was Hillary’s, and all of us who were students then. It was a decade marked by realization and self-discovery.
We live in very different times now, but I would argue that this is another moment in our history for realization and self-discovery.
Wellesley did a bit of self-discovery itself this year. We looked at, considered, and debated the very essence of what it means to be Wellesley. And at the end of that community process, we came to a strong decision. We can and we must hold true to our mission as a women’s college. We can and we must take great pride in our values and our traditions while still adapting appropriately to changing times.
Think of your own journey of discovery and transformation thus far. You may have arrived at Wellesley as pre-med, until you found your love of Sophocles. Or perhaps you wanted to be a lawyer but discovered economics. Maybe you took that art history class, and that art history class … that changed everything. Or maybe you discovered for the first time that you really are good at science. Maybe you tried a new sport, studied abroad, or learned to play an instrument, or learned a new language—or all of these.
You pushed yourself out of your comfort zone. You took risks. You discovered what you’re good at—and what you’re not so good at.
You have been a student of the liberal arts. You have studied the great thoughts of the ages. You have discovered which of them should be embraced as profound, and which ones dismissed as foolish. You have been given a map of the route to true learning. You have begun that never-ending journey toward wisdom. You have learned to question and to delight in questions and not just answers. You have learned that knowledge is layered and that the layers cut across many disciplines. You have been given the tools of discovery.
Now you have fulfilled all of the academic requirements for your degree. It is time to graduate.
But, but now what?
Some years ago, there was a television commercial in which a man was absentmindedly surfing the Web when he came to the Internet’s last webpage. An error code popped up on his computer. Go back, it said. There is nothing more. You have reached the end of the Internet.
It was a funny commercial.
We are in an age of information (and information overload), where discovery seems just a keystroke away. You know well that this is not so. You know that true discovery is hard—and you know that it is never ending.
Unlike the man in the commercial, you have not reached the end of the Internet. There will always be something more to see, always be something more to learn.
Today, as you reflect on your time at Wellesley and think about what is to come, I offer you this charge: Keep discovering. That discovery will be of new facts and ideas, of course. But it will also be continuing the discovery of yourself.
Wellesley graduates never live the unexamined life.
As T.S. Eliot wrote:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
Today is your commencement. Commencement does not mean the end—the word means the beginning. You have just begun.
To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill,
This is not the end of your discovery
It is not even the beginning of the end
It is perhaps the end of the beginning
Continue to seek understanding; continue to read, continue to think, continue to live your life in the sublime glory of learning and mastering.
This being Wellesley, I am certain that all of you have a five-year plan, or a 10-year plan. Now, plans are good. They can help you achieve your goals. But in 10 years you may not be the same as you are today. Don’t let today’s plans get in the way of changing your direction; don't let them detract from your enjoyment of the journey.
Be bold. And as you do, know that you will be supported and encouraged by the thousands of alumnae who make up the global Wellesley network. It is a powerful network, and it is your network. Use it. Be a part of it.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You must do the things you think you cannot do.”
I agree with her, but I respectfully amend her words to say: Wellesley Class of 2015, you will do the things you think you cannot do.
And that’s because you are Wellesley, and wherever you go, whatever you do, whoever you become, you will always be Wellesley. This will always be your place; you will always belong here.
Thank you and congratulations.