Last week, Wellesley launched the Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion Initiative with a wonderful, community-wide daylong event: “Be Inspired by Difference: Create Community.”
At the working lunch that day, I spoke about how I personally have been inspired by difference, and also how I have felt included at Wellesley since I began my presidency.
As I have written here previously, I spoke about the candlelight service held at Wellesley last year to commemorate the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I recall being moved by the service in Houghton Chapel, where we heard the many voices of our community speaking about the tragedy— peers, colleagues, and friends—Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, Buddhist, and Hindu. As the Wellesley Choir sang “Hope,” we all took a candle and formed a circle in the Chapel. We were together, as one, in our moment of remembering. Wayne and I walked home through the dark night with only the candle lighting our path. That moment will forever be embedded in my memory. It’s important to take the time to savor the experience—to reflect and think.
I also spoke about being inspired by the ways in which we in this community care deeply for one another and for Wellesley. When I came to Wellesley College, I was different from Wellesley’s most recent previous presidents. I wasn’t an alumna. I didn’t attend a small liberal arts college. And I didn’t go to a women’s college. I came from a big research university and my home base there was in a medical school. I told the following story about being made to feel a part of life here:
On my first day on campus, I decided to take a walk. It was raining and so, without thinking, I grabbed an umbrella at random and enjoyed my walk along the then unfamiliar paths. Not long after that, a group of student leaders gave me a care package. The care package included a Wellesley umbrella with a note that said, “President Bottomly: You can’t be walking across campus with a Yale umbrella!” The students had noticed my faux pas and they did something about it with grace and humor. I was grateful, and amused. The care package also included a sign for me to use on my first Marathon Monday. It said, “Kiss me. I’m the President.” I have never used the sign, of course, but still cherish the gift and the good-humored, inclusive thought behind it.
Very early on, I was made to feel included in this community. I am very glad the Partnerships for Diversity and Inclusion Initiative is being made to ensure that everyone is.
On Monday, Wellesley and the League of Women Voters co-sponsored a debate between Republican Sean Bielat and Democrat Joe Kennedy, the candidates running for the Massachusetts 4th Congressional District seat. It was an honor to host the two candidates and to welcome a wonderful cross-section of students and others from around the district. Wellesley livestreamed the debate on our website for those who could not attend.
One of our own students, Gabrielle Linnell, attended the debate and has written a thoughtful commentary in The Huffington Post about her experience. It is students like Gabrielle—and all those who sat in the front of the auditorium in Alumnae Hall—who give us hope for the future.
I love Wellesley traditions. I love that we have so many of them, including the ones that generations of Wellesley women have experienced, serving as a rite of passage for new students. I also enjoy the traditions that have emerged more recently. This past weekend, as part of Family and Friends Weekend and Homecoming, I got to enjoy both the old and the new.
The first—one of our more recent traditions—was the parade of “floats” (or, golf carts). Beginning over by the East Side residence halls and following College Road up and around to the Athletic Fields, the Blue Nation Parade showed the creativity of the students who decorated the floats. The parade added some lively color to campus, despite the overcast sky.
Shortly after the parade, I participated in one of Wellesley’s oldest traditions—sophomore tree planting. This tradition is almost as old as the College, as it dates back to 1877 when our founder, Henry Durant, wanted Wellesley students to have “… a tree, whose growth they could watch, as it watched theirs, all through the four college years—a tree in which, on every future visit, they would recognize a long-acquainted friend.” Since then, hundreds of trees have been planted. And hundreds of Wellesley classes, upon returning to campus years after graduating, have sought out their class tree—taking note of how it is doing, how it has grown, and how it complements the beauty of our campus. This year’s sophomore class planted a lovely dogwood near Hay Amphitheater.
This past weekend, it was a privilege to welcome Wellesley family and friends to campus, and to welcome back alumnae for Homecoming. I hope our visitors enjoyed these Wellesley traditions as much as I did.