Congratulations, Class of 2013!

What a fabulous day for the members of the green Class of 2013 and their families! I am proud of our newest class of alumnae and all they have accomplished so far, and know that they will continue to make Wellesley proud in the years ahead.

The Class of 2013 will never forget this day. I know I won’t. (And not just because we all melted under our academic regalia, thanks to the 90-degree weather!) The day will long remain in our memories because it represents Wellesley at its best—coming together as a community to celebrate our students for their achievements and recognize our faculty whose work over the last four years has contributed to the education of this class.

It was also wonderful to have Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Obama, join us today as our Commencement speaker. Though she isn’t a Wellesley woman, she embraced the College as her own, with her most salient remarks. “Our country needs you,” she said. “In fact, the world needs all you have to offer. Our challenges are great, but so too are the opportunities for the positive change that you will create, if you remember not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”

Congratulations, Class of 2013! Enjoy this moment and come back to visit often.

A Green Evening and a Big Reveal

Senior Soiree photo smallIt is a busy and exciting time on campus. Last night, I joined our Green Class of 2013 at Senior Soiree, the first of many festive occasions to celebrate our seniors this spring. Senior Soiree is an opportunity for the class to come together to promote and drum up support for the Senior Class Gift, and it is the moment, in keeping with Wellesley tradition, that the senior class officers announce the Commencement speaker—a well-kept secret until then!

As you may have heard, Valerie Jarrett,  senior advisor to President Barack Obama and chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls, will be our 2013 Commencement Speaker. As an influential leader in public service, she is a fabulous choice by the students. I look forward to welcoming her to campus at the end of May.



Embracing Nerdland

I have often spoken about the importance of Wellesley’s intellectual community, where we value and encourage the open exchange of diverse opinions and ideas. Our intellectual community is one of Wellesley’s great strengths. 

Our Commencement speaker, Melissa Harris-Perry, also encourages such discourse—during her weekend show on MSNBC, which she has dubbed “Nerdland.”

In fact, as we prepare for Commencement on Friday, the campus is “nerding out” in anticipation of Harris-Perry’s arrival. Students have created a Facebook page, a Tumblr, and have distributed 1,500 boxes of nerd candy around campus. (I have two boxes on my desk.)

I will be delighted to welcome Harris-Perry—and her concept of “Nerdland”—to campus on Friday.  I know she will feel right at home.

Commencement Speaker Announced

Last night, Senior Class Officers Kate Leonard and Mariana Vanin had the honor of making the big announcement: this year’s Commencement speaker will be Melissa Harris-Perry—professor, political expert, and MSNBC host. 

The announcement was part of Senior Soiree, an annual tradition that reveals the Commencement speaker—a highly-guarded secret up until last night—and formally begins the countdown to Commencement (56 days and counting!). Senior Soiree also marks the mid-point in the Senior Gift Campaign. This year’s class hopes to achieve 75 percent participation.  After witnessing their enthusiasm and energy last night, I have no doubt that they can do it!

I am continually impressed by how our Commencement speakers are selected each year. It is a thoughtful process, driven by students. It goes without saying that their selection this year is a fabulous one. Dr. Harris-Perry is a distinguished academic and political expert, and she is an engaging speaker. I look forward to welcoming her to campus in May.

The Debate About Undergraduate Education

On Friday, at the 2011 Commencement ceremony, I handed out the Pinanski Prizes for Excellence in Teaching to three faculty honorees this year. As I read excerpts of their citations, I was inspired to think about an obvious fact we too often lose sight of: good education can not exist without good teachers.

The Pinanski Prizes at Wellesley are a significant honor to the few who are chosen.  I think they are also an important symbol to everyone in our community.  They signal the College’s understanding that good teachers and inspired teaching is, and has been throughout our 136-year history, the single most important factor in making Wellesley the great institution that it is.

Certainly, Commencement is a day to celebrate our graduating seniors. And they absolutely deserve that.  But an important undertone to the day is about the faculty, and the role they play in the lives of students.  The faculty’s effect on the Class of 2011 became quite evident as I watched our graduating seniors rise to give a standing ovation of appreciation to the faculty they had come to know in the previous four years.

The power of teaching should not be a revelation to anyone. We all know that good teachers and good teaching are the bedrock upon which our educational system rests, the sine qua non of a good undergraduate education.  But this seems often to be forgotten.  As I watch the current debate about and politicization of higher education spinning around me, I see little evidence that this basic truth is recognized in arguments about higher education.  The public’s frustration with our economy and our politicians’ defensive reaction to that frustration has led, among other things, to an attempt to discredit the effectiveness of higher education in our country.  Our higher education system has served the country and the public very well over the past century, and, in large part, it explains the U.S. preeminence in the world.  The impetus of the current attacks on higher education seem to derive from those looking for instances of failure and then generalizing that failure even to the large segment of higher education who is doing it right.  To those who truly understand the purpose and function of undergraduate education, it really comes down to good teaching, which is something that is not subject to meaningful cost-benefit analysis.  My fear is that the political climate will lead to actions that will diminish—rather than improve—the effectiveness of our colleges and universities.  I fear many want to throw the baby out with the bathwater, or whichever analogy you prefer.

I think we—and other institutions, as well as lawmakers and the general public—don’t celebrate our faculty enough, nor do we sufficiently appreciate the job they do.  I am proud that last Friday, at least for a few moments on the Academic Quad, we recognized the important work of three of our esteemed colleagues, and the faculty at large.