Inspired by Difference

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.

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