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State of the College Address 2012

Carol T. Christ, Tenth President of Smith College
Ivy Day, May 19, 2012; All Reunion Weekend, May 26, 2012

Good morning and welcome!

Welcome to the remarkable class of 2012!

And welcome to the family members, friends, and alumnae gathered here today. It is wonderful to be with you all as we celebrate Smith’s present, past and future. My job this morning is to report on the state of the college — and the state of Smith College is strong.

I don’t say that lightly but with a sense of great personal responsibility, to you, to our students and to the organizations, communities and nations, large and small, that stand in need of leadership today.

Around the world, this was a year of milestones.

A year in which three remarkable women — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkol Karman — won the Nobel Peace Prize...

A year that saw the vanquishing of dictators, and the spirit of revolution sweeping across the political landscape of the Middle East.

A year that witnessed the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” support at the highest level for the rights of same-sex couples, and the lifting of long-standing restrictions on women’s roles in the armed forces.

And a year in which we kept an eye on Washington, as political maneuvering brought renewed attacks on the rights and freedoms of women.

It was a momentous year, and yet challenges remain: to restore jobs and economic growth, to realize the full potential of democratic movements around the world, and to resist renewed challenges to the personhood of women and girls, even — or perhaps especially — in this country.

These challenges call for leadership, and Smith is committed to answering that call. Let me tell you some of the ways.

Many of you joined us in December, either in person or via the web, for the launch of the Women in Public Service Project, a partnership of the U.S. State Department and the Seven Sister colleges which aims, through leadership programs and a strong global network, to have a political and civic leadership that is 50 percent women by 2050.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is a prime mover and champion of this effort.

Her reasoning — and ours — is this: “Expanding the corps of women serving at all levels of government and civil society is an issue of fundamental fairness, but it is also about expanding the pool of talented people we need to tackle the world’s greatest challenges.”

We are looking forward to the first Women in Public Service Institute at Wellesley this summer, and to a similar training that Smith will host in France this fall at Reid Hall, the longtime home of our study abroad program in Paris.

This spring, Smith stepped forward to serve as the U.S. academic planning partner for the establishment of a new women’s university, in Malaysia, to be known as the Asian Women’s Leadership University.

We are working with an international team of academics to develop a pedagogy and a curriculum based on the ideals of a liberal arts education, with special attention to leadership.

The AWLU will pull together the best educational practices of the East and West, a vibrant residential learning community, and women from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds.

You won’t be surprised to learn that this ambitious project was initiated by three Smithies: Barbara Hou ’03, Hoon Eng Khoo ’73, and Mona Sinha ’88. The three of them — a formidable team — are among the founding board of the U.S.-based nonprofit that is moving this remarkable vision forward. 

Closer to home, this was a year of milestones at Smith.

Our groundbreaking Center for Women and Financial Independence celebrated its 10th anniversary. When this program was founded, there wasn’t much talk on college campuses about educating young women about finances so they could make good financial decisions.

But that has changed, thanks to this Center, and the young women graduating from Smith today are smarter and more confident about managing their personal finances and making financial decisions for their families and organizations.

We also celebrated the naming of the Career Development Office as the Lazarus Center for Career Development in honor of a longtime and dedicated friend of Smith: former board chair Shelly Lazarus ’68, chairman of advertising giant Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide.

Shelly is one of the world’s most successful and respected women in business and has helped create some of our most enduring and iconic advertising campaigns and brands. She credits Smith for giving her the confidence, curiosity of mind, and can-do spirit that propelled her up through the ranks of a highly competitive and primarily male profession.

Earlier this month, the board of trustees toured the brand new Bechtel Environmental Classroom at the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station, in Whately. This is a remarkable building on a stunning natural site.

With the design of the environmental classroom, we aim to answer the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous set of guidelines that will place the classroom among the most environmentally sustainable buildings in the country. 

I said that Smith was strong, and I am pleased to share the evidence. This spring, we admitted a remarkable class, selected from the largest pool of applications — 4,341 — in Smith’s history. And I am thrilled to welcome 69 daughters, sisters, or granddaughters of alumnae to the Class of 2016.

I am proud to say that the Class of 2016 is the most diverse class in Smith’s history. It is my cardinal belief that diversity strengthens education for all, and that the very core of Smith’s mission — its founding principle — is providing educational opportunity for those who have less access to it.

That was Sophia Smith’s dream—that by founding a college for women, she could redress their wrongs, adjust their wages, and increase their influence in society.

We take our commitment to diversity seriously, and our community holds itself to the values of respect, acceptance and inclusiveness. The conversations we’ve had on campus — and that I imagine you’ve had amongst yourselves — affirm this.

The fact that Smith educates global leaders is abundantly evident in the work of our alumnae, who continue to influence all aspects of society, from journalism to education to government.

I’m proud to share some of their stories with you.

It was a great year for Smith artists.

Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy ’02 captured the world’s attention, following her Oscar win earlier this year for her documentary Saving Face, which chronicles the stories of Pakistani women who have been scarred by violent acid-related attacks. She is the first Pakistani to receive an Oscar, and Time magazine named her one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World.”

Speaking of awards — Kathleen Marshall ’85 won her third Tony Award for Best Choreography for the Broadway production Anything Goes.

Robbyn Swan ’84 was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the category of history forThe Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden, which she co-wrote with Anthony Summers.

Author Erin McCauley (pen name Erin Morgenstern) ’00, spent much of the past year on the New York Times bestseller list, with her debut novel The Night Circus, about a Victorian nocturnal circus and two dueling magicians, being hailed as the nextHarry Potter, but for adults. A major movie deal is already in the works.

And, on the subject of Smith artists, a special congratulations to senior Kia Johnson, whose play Gossamer recently won the Sixth Annual Dr. Floyd Gaffney Playwriting Competition on the African-American Experience.

Smith women are leading in business.

Marilyn Carlson Nelson ’61 was honored with Lifetime Achievement Awards from both the Americas Lodging Investment Summit and the Hotel Investment Conference Asia Pacific. She is the chairman of Carlson, the first North American global travel company to sign the United Nations Global Compact international code of conduct to protect children from sexual exploitation in tourism.

Aimee Christensen ’91, an award-winning green energy strategist and CEO of Christensen Global Strategies, received the Hillary Institute Award from the Clinton Global Initiative.

Among the names on this year’s list of Washington’s 100 Most Powerful Women, which included First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, were Carol Thompson Cole ’73, the president and CEO of Venture Philanthropy Partners, which helps non-profits improve the lives of children in low-income families; and Farah Pandith ’90, Special representative to Muslim communities for the State Department

Speaking of lists: The Daily Beast’s “150 Fearless Women” included Sherry Rehman ’85, who serves as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States; and Shehrbano Taseer ’10, an outspoken journalist and Pakistani activist who also won the 2011 Human Rights Award from Human Rights First.

Other Smith women are leading in public service.

For her work in creating the first medical websites in France while the Internet was still in its infancy, Denise Silber ’74 was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration bestowed on a civilian. Silber has been organizing health information online since 1995, well before companies realized the value in providing accurate and up-to-date information about health online. Silber’s award makes her the second Smith woman, after Julia Child ’34, to receive the honor of chevalier, or knight, in France.

President Obama appointed several alumnae to new positions this year. They include: Wendy Sherman ’71, to the position of Under Secretary for Political Affairs in the Department of State; Karen Gross ’74, the president of Southern Vermont College, to the position of senior policy adviser in the Department of Education; Joan Harris ’52, to the Library of Congress Trust Fund Board; and Susan A. Maxman ’60, to the Board of Directors of the National Institute of Building Sciences.

These are the public stories — and only a fraction of them — but we also know that alumnae are making courageous, creative, selfless and transformative commitments in quieter ways as well, whether as parents, grandparents and great-grandparents; school volunteers and community arts participants; survivors of illness and caretakers to aging parents and disabled children.

Some of you are starting relationships and families; others are sending children off to college. Smith weaves in and out of your lives, and the bonds of community made here are constant and sustaining.

Seniors and alumnae, each time you return to this campus, over the course of your life, you will find it renewed and yet constant, evolving and yet familiar. This is a place of beginnings and returns, of commencement and continuation — and it is in this context that we celebrate your achievements today.

Let me turn now to the remarkable Class of 2012, you soon-to-be alumnae, whose hard work and commitment over the last four years we will honor at tomorrow’s ceremonies.

There are 653 of you and 80 graduate students. You come from 46 U.S. states and 27 countries. Twenty-five of you are Ada Comstock Scholars, ranging in age from 25 to 55. Together you have completed 810 majors; 157 are double majors. Your most popular majors were psychology, government, economics, art and English.

Seniors, as you prepare to enter the world, you already carry with you an array of marvelous achievements and capacities that set you apart.

So far, thirteen seniors have been offered Fulbright Fellowships this year! They are Bridget Cho, going to South Korea; Emily Coda, going to Germany; Saira Huq, going to Bangladesh; Clare Landefeld, going to Cameroon; Margaret Kurkoski, going to Turkey; Anna Leversee, going to Colombia; Rose Metting, going to Malaysia; Alexandra Page, going to Mexico; Danielle Shelton, going to Brazil; Hannah Sultan, going to Brazil; and Monica Swei, going to South Korea. This year, Smith is the top producing college for Fulbright Fellowships in the country.

This is an honor of which I am enormously proud. A record 42 seniors applied for Fulbrights this year and 64 percent were first-round finalists. That remarkable milestone is a tribute not only to our students’ ambition, drive, and preparation but to the profound investment the Smith faculty makes in mentoring and developing students for success after college.

Fulbrights were not the only prestigious fellowships for Smith. Seniors have distinguished themselves in a number of other important competitions as well. Clare Lynch has been awarded a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Junior Fellowship. Christine Yeh received a Critical Language Scholarship. Lucia Leighton has been awarded a DAAD fellowship. Leda Grossman received a prestigious scholarship to teach in Italy. And Karisa Klemm is the recipient of the 2012 Davis Foundation Projects for Peace grant.

We wish each of you good luck and a deeply rewarding experience.

Seniors, your success is a source of pride to all of us, and marks the beginning of a life journey we will watch with great interest.

Fifty-four percent of the class of 2012 participated in Praxis-funded internships. These were hosted around the world in places like Tanzania; China; India; Washington, DC; Salt Lake City; and New Orleans; and took place at organizations such as The Smithsonian Museum of African Art, the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Office of Senator Barbara Boxer, and Harvard Medical School.

Despite continued economic uncertainty, members of the class of 2012 are finding jobs at organizations such as Accenture, the Peace Corps, Deutsche Bank, Teach for America, Princeton in Asia, Capital One and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Smithies will be entering graduate programs at leading universities around the world, including the California Institute of Technology; Duke University; the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris; the London School of Economics; the University of California, Berkeley; the University of Michigan; and Yale University.

The Peace Corps is still making decisions for 2012 but any Smithies entering their ranks will be in exceptional company: with 18 alumnae currently serving, Smith is the highest ranking women’s college in the country in the number of Peace Corps volunteers. Smithies are serving in areas including Bulgaria, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Micronesia, Uganda and more.

In athletics, I want to salute the seniors who helped the Pioneers set a number of records this year.

The basketball team, which included senior Ellie Giles, had a standout year, earning its first ECAC Championship and setting a new school record with 23 wins. In track and field, Sarah Romano set new school records in the weight throw and the four by 200 meter relay.

The lacrosse team made its first-ever appearance in the ECAC championship game, and posted its highest win totals since 1999 thanks to seniors, Meaghan Fileti, M.K. Pasini, and Sofia Nakhnikian-Weintraub.

Smith squash captured the 2012 Epps Cup thanks to standout performances from seniors Clair Oblamski  and Jennifer Krain.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the passage of Title IX, a landmark piece of legislation in the evolution of women’s athletics. It is fitting, then, that this is the year in which we also launch of the Smith College Athletics Hall of Fame.

With it, we honor the athletes, teams, coaches, administrators and contributors who have helped build Smith’s impressive athletic program. Last week, I had the pleasure of announcing the first class of inductees into the Smith Athletics Hall of Fame. They are:

  • Dorothy Ainsworth ’16, who greatly expanded programming and support for athletics at Smith
  • Senda Berenson, who introduced the game of basketball to Smith and was the first woman inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Agnes Bixler Kurtz ’62, a member of the hall of fame in both lacrosse and squash
  • Barbara King Briggs ’83, national diving champion
  • Jane Slocum Deland ’69, the youngest member of the United States Women’s Squash Team that defeated Great Britain her junior year
  • Monique Fischer ’86, national swimming champion and current Smith record holder
  • Gwyn Hardesty-Coogan ’87, who represented the United States in track and field in the 1992 Olympics
  • Gloria Heath ’43, three-sport athlete who also served with the Women Airforce Service Pilots during World War II
  • Maureen McMahon ’84, national swimming champion and current Smith record holder
  • Victoria Murden McClure ’85, the first woman to complete a solo row across the Atlantic Ocean
  • Cheryl Plummer ’92, the two-time field hockey player of the year who also led Smith to the their 1990 lacrosse championship
  • Paola Prins ’86, Smith’s all-time leading scorer in field hockey
  • And the 1988 volleyball team, who went 41 and 4 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Congratulations to these outstanding women.

Each year at this time we recognize people who have worked on behalf of the college and who are retiring from their posts. Katie Clark ’10 and Lisa Ferrell ’85 will reach the end of their terms on the Board of Trustees, as will Chair of the Board Cornelia Mendenhall Small ’66. We thank them for their dedication, wisdom and generosity on behalf of Smith College.

We welcome to the board Eve Hunter ’12, the SGA trustee; Margaret Eisen ’75, Lois Thompson ’66, Alison Overseth ’80, Neelum Amin ’86  and Sanford Belden.

Four members of the faculty are retiring this year, after decades of exemplary teaching and scholarship. They are:

  • Susan Heideman, Art
  • Daniel Horowitz, Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of American Studies and of History
  • Catharine Newbury, Gwendolen Carter Chair in African Studies and Five College Professor of Government
  • Tom Riddell, Economics and former Associate Dean of the College

Six members of our faculty were awarded the Charis Medal this year in recognition of a quarter-century of teaching, scholarship and service to Smith. They are:

  • Nancy Bradbury, English Language and Literature
  • Scott Bradbury, Classical Languages and Literatures
  • Nalini Easwar, Physics
  • Mary Harrington, Tippit Professor in the Life Sciences  (Psychology)
  • Nancy Shumate, Classical Languages and Literatures
  • Ann Zulawski, Sydenham Clark Parsons Professor of History and of Latin American Studies

We thank them for their service to countless students, to their colleagues and to their disciplines.

We also pause to remember those members of our community who died this year:

  • Harold Anderson, Facilities Management
  • Sarah Szold Boasberg ’58, Former Trustee
  • Louis Cohn-Haft, Professor Emeritus of History
  • Bruce Dahlberg, Professor Emeritus of Religion and Biblical Literature
  • Robert Lee Ellis, Treasurer Emeritus
  • John Francis Forkey, retired from Dining Services
  • Luc Gilleman, Professor of English Language and Literature
  • Ira Michael Heyman, Former Trustee
  • Leslie M. Hill, Associate Dean of International Study
  • James Holderbaum, Professor Emeritus of Art
  • Robert Lockwood, retired from Central Services
  • Margaret E. Mahoney, Former Trustee
  • Rosemary Offner, Associate Director of the Alumnae Association and Executive Secretary of the Friends of the Smith College Libraries
  • Marguerite Paul, retired from Facilities Management
  • Philip Reid, Louise C. Harrington Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences
  • Lory Wallfisch, Iva Dee Hiatt Professor Emerita of Music
  • Isabel Brown Wilson ’53, Former Trustee
  • Gina Zaikowski, Director of Fiscal Affairs and Financial Aid for the School for Social Work

And we remember Emma Coleman, a member of the class of 2015. Our thoughts are with her family at this time. 

As seniors become alumnae, as alumnae return to Smith, a remarkable cycle of support and commitment is set in motion, with the excellence of Smith today made possible by the generosity of every class, every generation, every individual and friend.