She wept when 1,000 people in Sage Hall jumped to their feet and cheered her arrival at Smith. The rest of us wept when word trickled out of Brown that she would be leaving us. The years between these two events have been some of the most remarkable since I came to Smith some 40 years ago. More than any president I have known, she has changed this very special place forever. We have been truly blessed by her strength and courage, her warmth and ability to listen, and most especially by her willingness to act on those things in which she believes.
Diversity work, the continuing quest for civility in society, fund raising and how best to be good stewards of those gifts, recruitment and retention of the very best students, faculty and staff-all of what Ruth Simmons does has the fundamental underpinning of her strong moral ethics.
So although I look forward to parties in her honor, the very best and most meaningful way for us to thank Ruth for being a part of our lives is to continue her work for social justice. Let that be her continuing legacy to Smith for all time.
In March 1995, shortly after Ruth Simmons agreed to become the ninth president of Smith College, I was at Princeton University giving a talk at a conference sponsored by its Latin American studies program. I took the opportunity to do some sleuthing about our new leader, and I spoke to nearly a dozen professors and administrators. With manifest genuineness, they all said the same thing: her departure was Princeton's profound loss and Smith's magnificent gain.
Ruth Simmons is to college presidents what Michael Jordan is to basketball players. First, she passionately believes in the transcendental importance of education, both to individuals and to society. Second, she has a vision and a clear set of priorities. Third, she listens, she learns and she leads. Fourth, she has tenacity and boundless energy. Fifth, she inspires.
When Ruth came to Smith in 1995, one of her first initiatives was to have the campus conduct a self-study, helping us to know ourselves and helping Ruth to know us. Through open discussion, brainstorming, persistence and, ultimately, guidance from Ruth, the self-study produced a plan of action with many significant initiatives. Thus were born the engineering program, the Kahn Institute, Meridians, the poetry center, Praxis, the expansion of the faculty and the redefinition of its workload, among others.
But Ruth not only transformed the curriculum and intellectual life at Smith, she also created a new social environment. Seemingly entrenched tensions and divisions among groups and ethnicities began to fade. The share of African-American and Hispanic-American students in Smith's entering classes virtually doubled from 7.1 percent in 1994 to 13.9 percent in 2000. As important as the numbers, however, is the new confidence and comfort that minority students began to exude. There is now a deeper sense of tolerance, openness, comity and respect that benefits us all.
In short, in her six years here, Ruth has revitalized both this campus and the outside perception of it. The words that came to me spontaneously at a faculty meeting last November were the right ones: Ruth has lifted us in spirit and substance beyond a level that most of us thought was possible. She is a gem and she is irreplaceable. Her departure is Smith's profound loss and Brown's magnificent gain.
Andrew Zimbalist, Robert
A. Woods Professor of Economics
Over the past six years that you have led Smith College, it has gone through tremendous changes that could not have been possible otherwise. President Ruth Simmons, you are truly a jewel-steadfast and bright in our midst.
You are a diamond-strong, unbreakable and wondrous. Meridians-the first journal for women of color-has been established through your vision. Your successful launching of the new engineering program and the Kahn Institute shows us that you value the training of women's minds. Through Praxis, you have opened the doors of internship to those otherwise excluded, allowing us to take a different route. Students are now able to fully engage in and explore their fields of interest.
Your vision captures the lives of many underprivileged students by making education a possibility for all. You have allowed the institutional climate to positively grow into a place where diversity is not only tolerated but fostered. Smith celebrates the lives you have transformed and the incredible amount of influence you have had on many students.
The friendship and the fellowship that you have generously offered are an honor to be part of. President Ruth Simmons, you have taught us that there is nothing more valuable than education. You are a teacher who loves her students and has faith in the powers of education. You have exemplified that to us. President Ruth Simmons, most of all, thank you for extending education to all. We look forward to your furthering your vision at Brown University.
Hae-Won (Helen) Hwang, Class of 2004
At a party celebrating Ruth Simmons' appointment six years ago, I tried to recap what we faculty members, trustees and students on the search committee had been looking for. Taking a bit (?) of poetic license, I reminded my colleagues that our simple task had been to find an experienced educator, outstanding organizer, and warm-hearted, tough-minded, worldly workaholic, who, from the start, would know...
How to run a complex place,
And be in town and far away,
We were looking for nothing less than a Woman for All Seasons.
And, by God, we found her!
I sang Ruth Simmons' praises that night (and toasted our good sense). I have been doing so ever since. Ruth has not only lived up to our highest expectations, she has shown us all what leadership is really all about.
From the start, she has been concerned about the character of life in our community and also what is going on beyond the Grécourt Gates. She has encouraged and supported innovative ideas and programs-Praxis, the engineering program, the Poetry Center, new international initiatives, the Kahn Institute. She has always expressed interest in what faculty members and students are thinking and doing. She has challenged us, cajoled us, and she has chided us, too, especially about certain things that really irk her. Like, you know....
The other day a mall-talking embodiment of one of Ruth's principal peeves was standing outside my open office door with some of her friends. They were talking about the president and the fact that she was leaving Smith.
The mall-talker was saying how sad she was feeling now that Ruth was going. I perked up my ears and listened more carefully.
"I mean," she said, "she's, like, awfully critical. But, you know, she's been, like, awesome."
I wanted to go out in the hall and say, "Like, I agree."
Peter I. Rose, Sophia Smith Professor
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