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State of the College Address 2006

Carol T. Christ, Tenth President of Smith College
Ivy Day, May 20, 2006; Second Reunion Weekend, May 27, 2006

Smith College is distinguished by its traditions, and few are more evocative than Ivy Day. Ivy Day celebrates the history and the continuity of the college, manifesting, in each of you, Smith's rich and distinguished past and its vibrant future. A college president isn't advised to play favorites, but Ivy Day is, without question, at the top of my list.

This is an exciting moment for your college. Smith is at the beginning of a strategic planning process. As I stand before you today, we are bringing forward a number of strategic planning objectives that will powerfully shape the college's future over the next decade and beyond. In this effort, the mandate we have taken is no less than this: to re-imagine a liberal arts education, linking Smith's past to its future in bold new ways.

That may sound audacious, and in many ways it is, but I have met enough Smith alumnae and students to know that audacity and boldness are well within our tradition. I have spent the last year meeting with hundreds of alumnae, in small groups, from Honolulu to Boston, from Chicago to Palm Beach, inviting their advice -- your advice -- as we shape the future of Smith.

Across the generations and professions, across interest groups, classes, majors and professions, what you've told me has been remarkably consistent. You are proud of Smith's academic excellence and distinction; you are grateful for the intensive commitment of faculty to their students; you are excited about Smith's pioneering developments in the sciences and engineering; you recognize the exceptional strength of Smith's programs in the arts, as well as in international study; you value the house system; and you believe strongly that education has a moral and social purpose. Smith, you've said firmly, must educate its students to contribute to the world.

Like our campus community, you have a deep commitment to developing students' personal and academic capacities. You have joined faculty, staff and students in stressing the importance of writing, quantitative reasoning, public speaking, critical thinking, cross-disciplinary study, intercultural competency, and civil discourse.

These marvelously rich conversations have recently crystallized into eight strategic planning directions for the college. These will be the focus of intensive discussions over the next year, both on campus and beyond, in person and online. With your help, we will generate bold initiatives that strengthen essential student capacities; promote a culture of research and discovery; deepen students' awareness of global cultures and issues; encourage engagement with social challenges; support and promote environmental sustainability; prepare women for work/life opportunities and choices; open doors to women of promise; and extend Smith's impact on the world.

I want to spend a moment on those last two topics, for they speak quite directly to Smith's mission. Our country is in the midst of a vital conversation about who in our society will have the privilege of a college education -- particularly the kind of transformative, rigorous, powerful education that Smith and other excellent institutions provide.

As many elite universities and colleges struggle to enroll an economically diverse student body, Smith is gaining national recognition for what it has always quietly and purposefully done: enrolling, supporting and graduating extraordinary young women from all walks of life. This is a choice, and not without economic challenges. But it is also, in the global sense, an enormous opportunity.

In our own country and around the world, the education of women is increasingly recognized as a force for social and economic development and for the advancement of civil society. The future Smith shapes for itself must -- and will -- connect powerfully to the pressing debates and challenges of our time, reaching and influencing new populations and engaging our alumnae and supporters in new and compelling ways.

We take up this charge from a position of strength and momentum. We have reached a number of milestones this year. The Picker Engineering Program received its accreditation. We have obtained site approval from the city of Northampton to proceed with construction of a new building across Green Street for engineering and the sciences. As part of our commitment to replace apartments that will be removed for that building, we have selected a local developer to build 26 apartments at the corner of Bedford Terrace and State Street. To replace the housing for Adas at that location, we are building an apartment building for Adas with children, to be named Conway House, in honor of Jill and John Conway. The Ada program celebrated its 30th anniversary this fall.

Upholding the college's moral mission, the Smith College Board of Trustees voted on May 6 to ban investment in Sudan, joining other colleges and universities in pressuring the Khartoum government to seek a lasting peace in that region.

In the area of admission, for the second year in a row, we have set a record in the number of applications to Smith. We have admitted a splendid class for the fall -- talented and diverse.

Our current students had an excellent year in fellowship competitions. Last year, we were the top producer of Fulbright winners among baccalaureate colleges. This year, our students and alumnae have won even more Fulbrights, 16 award winners, up from 14 last year. They are Jill Abramowitz, Ka'Neda Ellison, and Lauryn McCarthy, all '06, for South Korea; Leigh Cressman, Kerstin McGaughey, and Nora Pitts, all '06, and Lily Hart '05, for Germany; Amelia Bidwell '03, Norway; Emma Clark '06, Botswana; Caitlin Daniel '06, Bolivia; Emily Graham '02, and Nora Hayes-Roth '06 Italy; Sophia Johnson '03, Ukraine; Neema Khatri '05, Nepal; Laura Medina '06, France; and Jessica Rubin '06, Nicaragua. Nora Pitts has also won a DAAD Fellowship for study in Germany; Samantha Black has won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship. Sarah Neel Smith '07 has won a Beinecke, and Leigh Ann Gardner, Caitlin Hamill, and Amanda Nelson, all '08, have won Borens, for study in India, Jordan, and Tanzania. Finally, Smith College has five seniors graduating with Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellowships, supporting their undergraduate research and future aspirations for graduate level study: Sarauna Moore, Isabel Porras, Ayoka Stewart, Toccarra Thomas, and Hassani Turner.

Taking their Smith knowledge into the workplace, some 400 of our students will participate in Praxis internships this summer, all funded by the college. The organizations for which they will work include museums from Boston to Oaxaca; botanic gardens from the Maine coast to Kew, outside of London; news organizations from CNN to the Daily Hampshire Gazette; educational organizations in India, Pakistan, and Cambodia, as well as many in the States; scientific laboratories at Harvard Medical School, Columbia, Dartmouth Hitchcock, and Mass General; and government offices and NGO's ranging from a United Nations Development program in Cairo to our own Jane Harman's congressional office in Washington D.C.

We have also had excellent success in athletics. Smith Volleyball won the Seven Sisters and the NEWMAC championships; player Kate Sorensen was named to five all-tourney teams, the Seven Sisters MVP, and a NEWMAC All American. Crew won its third consecutive NEWMAC title, and has just received an invitation to nationals; Karen Klinger '87, the team's coach, was named NEWMAC Coach of the Year for the second year in a row. Smith Ice Hockey played their first ever established league competition for a total of 27 games; Smith Rugby won the prestigious Division 2 Beast of the East tournament. Marlene Pineda '08 broke two Seven Sisters swimming records at the Seven Sisters Championship. Judy Strong, head coach of the field hockey team for 19 years, was named to the NCAA Division I 125th anniversary team, and Track and Field celebrated its 25th anniversary with 40 alumnae and past coaches returning to campus this spring.

In quite a different area of student activity, I want to pay tribute to Smith's artists. Five College Opera staged two wonderful operas at Smith to three sell-out audiences; five Smith students sang major roles, and our theater department created extraordinary sets and costumes for the production. MFA candidate Ariel Gonzalez Cohen was nominated for Dance Magazine's Outstanding Choreographer Award and was invited to perform at the Kennedy Center in May. A wonderful season of student music, dance, and theater has ended with the orchestra's splendid performance of Mahler's Second Symphony, and Noel Coward's Family Album.

Our students have also been very active in community service projects this year. More than 50 of our students have traveled to the Gulf Coast to help in various rebuilding projects, including a group that went to Biloxi in January and one that went to New Orleans over spring break. Our students put on a Hunger Banquet that raised over $11,000 to combat genocide in Sudan and drought in East Africa; students also raised a record $6,000 for a local organization, Friends of Children, dedicated to child advocacy. Wilson House won a house competition to raise money for a local MassPIRG Hunger Clean Up to combat hunger and homelessness. Hopkins House won first prize and Park House was runner-up in a new competition for community service and sustainability projects developed by houses. The student organization Clean Energy for Smith won the Million Monitor Award from the EPA for getting 1,800 students to power down their monitors when not in use, beating out Amherst and Mount Holyoke.

Our faculty have continued to garner impressive awards. This year we expect to receive $5 million in grants. Professor Richard Olivo has received the Educator of the Year Award from the Society for Neuroscience. A recent book by Professor Andy Zimbalist, National Pastime: How Americans Play Baseball and the Rest of the World Plays Soccer, was named as an outstanding academic title by Choice magazine. Professor Laura Katz has been named to the Smithsonian Institution's Biodiversity Science and Education Initiative task force. Daisy Fried, our Conkling Poet in Residence, has won a Guggenheim Fellowship. Professor John Davis has won a Fulbright for study and teaching in Brussels. Professor Eric Reeves has been awarded the Williams Bicentennial Medal and will be awarded an honorary degree from Mount Holyoke next week for his advocacy work increasing awareness of the genocide in the Sudan. Smith awarded Professor Emerita Elizabeth Horner an honorary degree at a private ceremony in late April. Sherrerd Distinguished Teaching Awards were presented to Professors Giovanna Bellesia, H. Robert Burger, Glenn Ellis, and Marguerite Harrison. Students presented teaching awards to Professor David Newbury and Senior Lecturer Robert Hosmer.

Faculty collaborate with students in much of the research that they do. This year, for the fifth time, we held a day-long celebration of student research, titled “Celebrating Collaborations,” in which over 180 students presented the independent work they had done with faculty. Immediately preceding this event was a gathering of 70 of our alumnae, engaged in careers in the sciences, technology, and engineering. Ranging from the class of 1950 to the Class of 2005, the women who attended were powerful evidence of Smith's long distinction in educating leaders in science.

Not surprisingly, Smith alumnae continue to distinguish themselves in many fields. We awarded Smith medals this year to arts administrator Margaret Byard Stearns '57, educator Roberta Schenker Kurlantzick '65, scientist and physician Beverly Mitchell '65, and human rights activist Julia Bolz '83. T. Christine Stevens '70 has been named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Catherine McKinnon '69 and Susan Goldin-Meadow '71 have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Katie Hunt '77 was named president-elect of the American Chemical Society. Anne De Groot '78 has just been named the 2006 Rhode Island Woman Physician of the Year. Kathleen Morin '75 has won Columbia Teaching College's Distinguished Alumna Award. Adrian Nicole LeBlanc '86 is one of five journalists named as a Poynter Fellow at Yale. Jane Yolen '60 has been awarded an honorary degree by the University of Massachusetts. Sharmeen Obaid '02 has won the Livingston Award for her reporting about the Taliban. Debra Brown Steinberg '76 won the 2006 American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award. Margaret Lang Bauman '60 won the Doug Flutie Jr. Award for her work with autistic children. Elizabeth Whiston '05 founded a non-profit group that raised more than $30,000 to build schools in rural Uganda. Carolyn Kuan '99 was appointed first female conductor by the North Carolina Symphony in 2005 and the first female conductor by the Seattle Symphony in 2006. April H. Foley '69 has been nominated as Ambassador to Hungary. Linda C. Thomsen '76 has been appointed head of the SEC's Enforcement Division. Claudia McMurray '80 has been appointed Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Oceans and International and Scientific Affairs. The Manhattan District Attorney's Office unveiled a plaque recognizing Eunice Hunton Carter '21 as the first black woman to serve as a prosecutor in New York State.

In the world of sport, Penny Chenery '43 received a special award for her contributions to the world of thoroughbred racing. Bettina Jenney '55 was placed in top position for the breeding of thoroughbreds, and Diana Dodge '54 was named Virginia Horsewoman of the Year and was awarded the US Memorial Breeder's Cup. Britton Nixon '02 took home a handful of medals and captured three out of four national titles at the U.S. National Rowing Championships. Anne Martin '83 won U.S. Rowing's Jack Kelly Award. Midge Costin '78 was the first professor named to the Kay Rose Endowed Chair in USC's School of Cinema and Television, and took first and second place in individual races in the World Surf Kayaking Championships.

We have made several new administrative appointments this year: Patricia Jackson as Vice President for Advancement, Larry Hunt as Executive Director of Human Resources, and Stacie Hagenbaugh as Director of Career Development.

Each year we recognize people who have worked for Smith and who are retiring. Elizabeth Leidel '04, past president of the SGA, will reach the end of her two-year term on the Board of Trustees this year. We thank her for her service. Three faculty members are retiring: Mark Aldrich, Mickey Glazer, and Howard Nenner. Several members of our community have died this year: retired professors Walter Morris-Hale, Kenneth Hellman, Edith Kern, and Helen Russell, who served for many years as dean of students, as well as Rita Wilkins, former director of SOS, and Marjorie Richardson, former assistant dean for minority affairs.

And now to graduates. There are 737 of you. You come from 45 states and 29 foreign countries. 62 of you are Adas, ranging in age from 26 to 61. Together you have completed 867 majors; 130 are double majors. The five most popular majors are government, art, psychology, economics, and English. And 50 graduate students will receive your degrees tomorrow.

You, the Class of 2006, are poised to go into the world, as the alumnae here have before you. Use your gifts well, your privileges with care and generosity. Remember the Grecourt Gates and the charge they represent. Erected in 1924 as a memorial to the work of the Smith College Relief Unit that went to France to rebuild villages that had been destroyed by the war, they symbolize the responsibility you have to use your education to benefit others. At the dedication ceremony, Ada Comstock, the great dean of the college after whom the Ada Comstock Scholars program is named, described their significance: The Grecourt Gates, she said, “form a wide gateway through which the graduates of this college will go out year by year, ready as were the members of this unit to dedicate all they have to the common lot.”

That is your journey as well, one that begins at Smith and that I hope will bring you back here throughout your life. I wish you Godspeed.