2013 Reunion Address: Sharmila “Mona” Ghosh Sinha ’88
Sharmila “Mona” Ghosh Sinha ’88 delivered the 25th Reunion Address at Smith College’s Ivy Day celebration on Saturday, May 18.
Greetings, President Christ — we salute you for the dedicated leadership you have shown our college for the past 11 years. You take with you our love, admiration and gratitude as you embark upon life after Smith.
Greetings, Smith faculty, honored guests and parents, alumnae, my family, my fellow trustees, my classmates from the great Class of 1988...
...and most of all, to the amazing Class of 2013!
When Carol asked me to speak today, I was so delighted as I have had the honor and privilege of knowing so many of you seated here today.
Class of 2013: you as women for the world, are empowered to lead change. You and I both aspire for the world to be a shared partnership, in all respects:
- where women are represented equally at the highest levels of society, government and business;
- where women’s health is not an afterthought;
- where women’s networks are as powerful as men’s; and,
- where women will not have to derail their careers or lose their identities in order to raise their children.
As you graduate from Smith College, you are ready to embark upon that road along with the 40,000 Smith sisters and other women whose every triumph has paved the path for your success.
You will learn to Lead Forward, as we all did before you, and make the world a better place, one step at a time.
Through your own leadership you will question and push, using the tools you have and will acquire, encourage others to follow and re-imagine the world that you will leave behind you.
That’s Leading Forward.
Let me share with you three of my own life-lessons as I embarked upon the journey you are about to start.
I learned to appreciate the privilege of being at this incredible institution by always questioning the status quo, working harder than I ever had, to find a better answer. That has never and will never stop.
I learned to fashion the contents of my one suitcase into the styles of the times! Oh, we were so Smith-stylish with so little....
I learned to be comfortable when fellow students asked me uncomfortable questions. And soon I learned to ask them of myself.
I followed the example of the mighty, ten-armed goddess Durga as I took on the challenge of multi-tasking my life in college, in the US, and as a global citizen.
In short, I learned to innovate to find creative solutions to sticky problems.
I was fascinated by American government and applied to the Picker Semester-in-Washington program. No matter that I was the only economics major and the first international student to do so; going first seemed like a Smith thing to do.
My advisers and professors motivated me, but they also critiqued me and pushed me to be my best. I listened even when it hurt.
Professor Taft-Morris gave me her house keys on the first day we met, her home becoming the first of many welcoming homes at Smith — from Li’l Hopkins to Duckett to Alumnae House to Paradise Road and Round Hill!
Over many debates and discussions on this campus, dreams were dreamt and started to look like they could become reality.
Class of 2013: The world needs you more than ever before. As strong, smart women, you look for shared leadership with your fellow men, in all spheres. Share the lessons you have learned at Smith. Place trust in the people who champion you and listen to criticism. Even if you change the lives of a handful of people, the rewards are huge.
We are ready for you to Lead Forward.
Take risks, be daring, think big and always think Smith — just as I did when I was inspired to create the Asian Women’s Leadership University for the future women leaders halfway across the world. I want them to have the same opportunities, the gems of leadership that you have had on this campus. My Smith education followed by my career in business and non-profit leadership, have prepared me to take on this large undertaking. As we plan this endeavor, Smith is the partner by my side. When we open our doors in a few years, I want you all to be right there with me.
- Are you inspired to be Innovators?
- Can you go out into the world, turn on those Smith brains, and be the beacon for women who dare not dream as big as you can?
- Do you promise to work hard to look for uncommon solutions and be prepared at all times?
My second life-lesson was the discovery of my voice. It was always loud but not always strong — until Smith.
My voice trembled a little when I called the director of financial aid as tuition increases did not make it into my aid package.
But it was strong when I joined the ranks of my classmates to occupy College Hall and lobby for divestment from S. Africa.
Smith listened both times. So here I am today.
There was only one momentous occasion however, that rendered me completely speechless — when Professor Kaufman called and woke me at 8:15 one snowy freezing morning to remind me that I was supposed to be in class!!
Only at Smith.
Change is not easy but it is now part of your Smith DNA. And it can be fun.
Can you be fearless and use your voice powerfully?
I think so.
That’s how you Lead.
Can you write those op-eds and thought-altering pieces to tell the world what you think?
That’s moving forward.
Take the plunge. Lead Forward.
No matter if you stumble and fall, pick yourself up, dust off and keep going...the Smith network is always behind you.
Smith has taught you well. Lead. Pay it forward. Change Lives. Even a Few. Be proud of what you do. Make us proud.. Celebrate your values, your sense of self, Smith has made you You. And you matter.
Don’t lose that.
Don’t try to be someone else, don’t ape the most popular person around you.
Instead celebrate the uniqueness of who you are.
In that uniqueness, you are a Smithie.
And that is the most important lesson I learned right here.
I reveled in the simple joys of being on this beautiful campus...
...the freedom to learn about the art of Leonardo alongside the fifth differential in Calculus;
...the pleasure of walking Professor Felton’s dog, Willa, and pretending she was my own;
...the laughter from running down the hill to get samosas from India House when we were supposed to be taping our windows against hurricane Gloria;
...the surprise at seeing the paper snowflakes plastered on my door marking my first snowfall;
...the celebrations with good friends and teachers at successful beginnings and endings.
But underlying it all, was the passion for trying to better the world for women in whatever way I could, using my Smith learned lessons of innovation, voice and self-discovery.
The passion that was fed by the support and love of this matchless community of like-minded women: smarter-than-smart, crazier-than-crazy, kinder-than-kind.
It was inspired by the incredible stories of women’s lives from the ground up and the aspirational stories of their ambitions.
Look around you, today and throughout this weekend, to see the community of Smith women, from around the world, that surrounds and supports you.
We will encourage you, mentor you, open doors for you — and kick you in the butt at those moments — the inevitable moments — when you need to be reminded of your promise to the world:
It is more than worth the effort....
We do this for you because it was done for us.
And because as Gandhi said — we want you to be — and know that you must be “the change that you want to see in the world.”
Congratulations to you all, Smith College Class of 2013!