President H. Kim Bottomly's 2016 Charge to the Senior Class
Seniors! Today is your day. You are the ruby red Class of 2016!
You have been a wonderful class—you were never afraid to make your voices heard.
You helped refine and add nuance to our discussions of critical issues on our campus and in the world: racial inequality and equity, gender identity, academic freedom, sustainability and climate change and others.
Earlier this month, you made a visible statement on campus when you decorated the campus with red—so much red!
The enormous volcano that spewed red lava balloons in the Science Center was especially impressive.
Today is a happy day! You have earned your wings. You are ready to soar. But there is plenty of time for flying. Today I want to see those beautiful new wings outspread. Flap them, strut about, and celebrate! You have earned this celebration. You have worked hard – enjoy the day.
You have accomplished much. I know your families are proud of you, and they are right to be.
This is a watershed moment—it is as if you have successfully passed a gigantic multiple-choice exam. Your life to date has required choices.
You needed not just intelligence but wisdom. There were many decisions to be made, and the best one was not always transparent.
But, in a broad sense, there were pre-ordained paths that were laid out for you. That is why I referred to it as a multiple-choice test. Now it is time for you to move on to the essay portion.
The assigned essay is a daunting one, entitled, “How I lived my life, and what kind of difference did I make.” There are no pre-printed choices.
My job today is to give you a charge that will offer some hints as to how to begin that essay.
I offer this simple charge: Appreciate your capabilities, know what you can do, and understand the power of your education. Use this to write that essay in a way that will make you proud.
It’s a simple charge, but there are three aspects to it.
First: Have the confidence to be patient. The confidence to know that you can do it. Because you can do it. And you will.
You might find it daunting to pass all those photographs in Alumnae Hall. You might look at the faces of our Alumnae Achievement Award winners and think: “How can I possibly match their achievements – I’m not even sure what I want to achieve.”
In my nine years at Wellesley, I have met many of these remarkable women. And they are remarkable – and impressive, and inspiring. But here is something I heard them say over and over again about how they came to achieve those remarkable things.
They didn't set out to do remarkable things. They all set out only to do what they thought was important to do. Important to them. Sometimes it made them famous. But they didn't know it would. And that wasn't their goal.
I want you to reflect on the early years of our award winners before they had accomplished great things. Before they knew they ever would. Those remarkable women lived those early years. They lived them one day at a time. They lived them without knowing what they would accomplish.
But they lived them with confidence in their capability. They kept at it, through false starts and fraught times, until they succeeded, until they did what they wanted to be doing. They were Wellesley women.
Your early years will be like theirs. You will do what you must. You will have some uncertainty. You will try different things. You will find those places that engage your mind and test your abilities.
You will arrive where you want to be and accomplish what you want to do. You will figure it out. Of course you will. You are from Wellesley.
The second part of the charge is this. You have been given a rare opportunity in attending Wellesley. You have been advantaged by attending one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country. You will be graduated today from the most prestigious women’s college in the world, a college that has prepared women to be leaders in almost every aspect of human endeavor. You have been connected to a vast and valuable network around the world.
Your education here will give you an advantage as you set out into the world. I charge you today to always make good use of your education and your influence. Use it to make a difference, and not just for yourself. Be the voice for those who cannot speak for themselves, be the hand up for those who need a hand in life, be the legs that lead the march to a better world.
Our motto, Non ministrari, sed ministrare, is not just a catchy Latin phrase written in fancy script. It should be the script for your life. Use your capability. When you finish that essay of your life, those paragraphs that deal with accomplishing things for others will shine far more brightly than those dealing with your personal accomplishments.
The final part of the charge is this: Remember some things need to be changed and you can lead that change.
You must emerge now into a pre-made world, and make your way successfully in it. That will require much effort and attention on your part. But you are capable of more.
The world, and how things are done, seems chiseled in granite – something only to react to, something to master, something to fit into.
But always recall these words from George Bernard Shaw: “You see things; and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say ‘Why not?’”
The world is not carved from granite – it is shaped by individuals. Those individuals who do not assume the status quo is forever. Those individuals who ask “why not?” Those individuals who persevere. Those individuals who make a difference.
As you leave Wellesley, you may not know where you will go from here. And that’s okay. I don’t know exactly where I will go from here either. Let’s take a deep breath and recognize that we’re okay. Let’s just take what we’ve learned here into the world.
Let’s be absolutely certain that we will figure it all out in good time.
And let’s agree on this—it is going to be great.
Thank you and congratulations to the Class of 2016.