Rachel Maddow, a political commentator who rose to national prominence after launching her career on local radio, was the speaker at Smith College's 132nd commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 16, 2010. Maddow and four other accomplished women received honorary degrees prior to the address.
My aunt graduated from Smith, and my mother graduated from Simmons. So the idea of studying at a women's college was not new to me. Still, I didn't expect to attend Smith. What changed my mind was learning about the open curriculum. I liked the fact that I could freely explore my interests.
During my first year I was homesick, but the housing system helped me adjust because I met some of my closest friends. What also helped was that the women of color on campus really support each other. Since then, I've become active with the Black Students Alliance and also Black Educators of Tomorrow, which mentors students in Springfield, Massachusetts.
I'm grateful that Smith made it possible for me to spend a semester of study at Spelman College, one of the nation's historically black colleges. Now I'm off to London for a semester. I'm hoping ultimately to work in entertainment or media and attend law school.
I came to Smith planning to study religion and art history. Then I took a child development course taught by Janice Gatty, who works with infants and toddlers at Clarke School for the Deaf, which adjoins the Smith campus. Through her teaching, I became fascinated by issues of language acquisition and deafness. I later volunteered with Clarke's drama club and just loved it. I'm now doing a self-designed major in speech and language science.
Over the summer I did research with Professors Jill and Peter de Villiers, who are world-renowned psycholinguists. After graduation, I hope to enter Smith's master's degree program in the education of the deaf. Eventually, I'd like to earn a Ph.D.
Smith's wonderful dance program has allowed me to also continue my dancing. And Smith is where I have made the most amazing friends. I do think fate led me here.
The first time I was in college was in 1974. Since then I have had a career as a bank vice president, opened a retail store where — for 22 years — I sold my work as well as the work of other artists, and raised our five boys. But throughout this time there was this little nagging voice in the back of my head saying, "school... school... school!"
After spending a year at the community college in Brattleboro, I applied to the Ada Comstock Scholars Program. Having the camaraderie of so many women — especially after the excess of testosterone at home — has been wonderful. We can have open discussions about women's issues that just wouldn't be happening with guys around.
I stay on campus Monday through Thursday in the commuter housing for Adas: it's another great part of this experience. We share our papers, meals, concerns about school and home, and offer each other support and encouragement. There's a real sense of community.
After finishing high school in New Mexico, I traveled for four years — partly in Europe and India — and eventually ended up in Chicago. I enrolled at a community college, which is where I learned about Smith. Part of the reason I applied to the Ada Comstock Scholars Program was because I was interested in how the classroom experience would be different at a women's college.
Coming here meant packing up my apartment and moving into a dorm, which was a huge leap. The adjustment turned out to be smooth and I'm enjoying the company of women of different ages and backgrounds.
Community service is important to me and I was elected S.O.S. (Service Organizations of Smith) house rep, which allows me to help coordinate volunteer projects for the women in Northrop House. I also tutor local schoolchildren as a volunteer with America Reads.
I applied to 10 colleges and ended up choosing Smith for two primary reasons. First, Smith's campus school is a great resource for my major in elementary education. Second, I knew I did not want to be isolated on a campus, and Northampton offers many cute shops and good restaurants.
As soon as I arrived at Smith, I experienced how friendly the professors are. They really encourage you to come to office hours and are happy to help. The workload is very manageable if you use your time well.
The houses are my favorite aspect of Smith. As opposed to dorms, the house system places an emphasis on community, and I've met people from all over the world. My neighbor is from Paraguay; she helped me with Spanish last semester.
In high school, I felt like I was growing through my friends. Smith has given me the opportunity to get to know myself, which has been an invaluable experience.
What drew me to Smith was the fact that I could swim competitively and get a great education. I'll be a tri-captain of the swim team this year. Another pull was the STRIDE program that allowed me to do research as a first-year student. I was concerned about Smith being a women's college, but when I visited, I saw how much fun the students had.
The open curriculum at Smith has allowed me to pursue a rigorous science major and complete pre-med requirements while exploring other areas of interest. I received a Smith Undergraduate Research Fellowship as a sophomore and spent the summer researching under the guidance of Kevin Shea, associate professor of chemistry. I want to do an honors thesis as a senior. First, though, I'll be spending a semester of my junior year in Cordoba, Spain. I made a great choice coming to Smith.
I'm a French major and a Spanish minor who is also fulfilling premed requirements. I've been told by professionals and graduate school admissions staff to do what truly interests me as an undergraduate rather than what looks good on an application or resume. So, I am studying languages, and I'm a leader in a number of campus organizations.
Last summer I was in Seattle for the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program, which is geared toward minority premed undergraduate students. That was one of my great Smith experiences. In January, I traveled to the Dominican Republic with a group of UMass nursing students to work in the maternity ward at a public hospital. In the fall, I'll go to Geneva for my junior year.
I love Smith but I know it isn't the right choice for everyone. I think, though, that if you are self-directed, it's a place where you can really blossom.
I'm the first person in my family to attend college, so the search process was new to me. I never intended to go to a women's college and only visited Smith while looking at a nearby school. But I loved the campus, the atmosphere and the people I met. I immediately knew it was the place for me.
It makes such a difference to be studying science in a single-sex environment. Students support each other, and Smith offers many opportunities for hands-on experience. After taking Professor Stan Scordilis's cell biology course, I began doing research with him. I spent a summer at Smith studying stress protein localization in muscle.
I participate in debate and Smith Spirit. I'm also the treasurer and social chair for the most amazing house on campus, Scales. Smith is empowering -- it's a privilege to be here.
The Museums Concentration draws on the educational resource of the Smith College Museum of Art's collection of more than 23,000 original works of art, on the expertise of its professional staff, and on the exceptional academic programs of Smith College and the Five Colleges that support learning in this area