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State of the College Address 2008

Carol T. Christ, Tenth President of Smith College
Ivy Day, May 17, 2008; Second Reunion Weekend, May 24, 2008

Good morning and welcome! Welcome to the fabulous class of 2008! And welcome to the family members, friends, and alumnae gathered here today, especially alumnae celebrating milestone reunions. It is so good to be with you, as we celebrate Smith’s past, present, and future.

It is my privilege -- as it has been for every Smith president -- to stand before you this morning and remind you of what you already know: Smith College is an exceptional place, and Smith women -- students and alumnae -- are remarkable in all that they endeavor.

We have had many moments to celebrate this year. Together, we marked the ground breaking of Ford Hall, the much-anticipated new home for engineering, computer science and the molecular sciences, which is now rising quite impressively at the other end of campus. We presented our own Professor of English Language and Literature Eric Reeves with an honorary doctor of laws degree, in recognition of his remarkable work on behalf of the people of Darfur. With immensely popular public readings and scholarly symposia, we marked the tenth anniversary of the Poetry Center, one of the most inspiring and galvanizing organizations on our campus, and considered the legacy of alumna Sylvia Plath on the 75th anniversary of her birth.

At the end of a year long process, Smith received official notice of its reaccreditation from NEASC just this Monday. With many commendations, and our art museum has also been reaccredited, with much praise.

Just weeks ago, in the company of former Smith President Jill Ker Conway and the board of trustees, we dedicated the Ada and Archibald MacLeish Field Station, a 200-acre woodland tract in Whately, Massachusetts, that will serve as an important site for Smith’s environmental education and research. The station’s name honors the longtime friendship Jill had with the MacLeishes, with whom she and her husband, John, shared a deep appreciation for the beauty of this valley.

In an equally important commitment to the environment, we have just completed a co-generation facility that will reduce our carbon footprint by half.

Perhaps most exciting: we welcomed record numbers of accepted students -- selected from the highest-ever number of applications to the college -- to our open campus events last month. The class that enters this fall will be the most selective in the college’s history. It’s no mystery why Newsweek named Smith “The Hottest Women’s College.”

Let me turn now to the amazing Class of 2008, you soon-to-be alumnae, whose hard work and commitment over the last four years we will honor tomorrow at commencement.

There are 704 of you -- and 70 graduate students. You come from 41 U.S. states and 29 other countries. Fifty-six of you are Ada Comstock Scholars, ranging in age from 24 to 68. Together you have completed 845 majors; 141 are double majors. Your most popular majors were government, psychology, art, economics 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 on course for lives of distinction.

Smithies won 17 Fulbright Fellowships this year! Ten went to seniors and seven to recent graduates. The seniors are Molly Chidester, Lilith Dornhuber deBellesiles Graeham Dodd, Shana Fung, Ann Kurtz, Stephanie Lewellen, Lili Mundle, Laila Plamondon, Alison Smith, and Tran Vo. The alumnae are Erin Davis, Juliana LaBruto, Kristen Nelson, and Suzanne Schwartz, all members of the Class of 2007; Mina Kim ’06; Sarah Lynch ’04; and Phoebe Sullivan ’03.

This is an honor of which I am enormously proud. Our success rate, the number of applicants chosen as fellows, is more than twice the national average. That 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. Leigh Ann Gardiner has been named a Department of State Critical Language Scholar. Lilith Dornhuber DeBellesiles is a DAAD fellow. Natalie Sullivan, a January grad, has been selected as a Humanity in Action fellow. Sandy Yu is a Luce Junior Fellow. Their success is a source of pride to all of us, and marks the beginning of a life journey we will watch with great interest.

Smithies were standouts in athletics as well. Senior soccer player Janine Olthuis was awarded one of 29 NCAA fall sports post-graduate scholarships. Senior Shanti Freitas holds both the one-meter and three-meter Smith diving records. Shanti won the Seven Sisters Championship on both boards and is second in the nation in the NCAA on the three-meter board, earning All-America honors for the third time.

Rugby had an outstanding fall, losing only one match and qualifying for the first round of conference play. Eight ice hockey players -- including seniors Caitlin Hamill, Ally Gorin and Amanda Taus -- earned ACHA Academic All American honors. The crew team’s second varsity eight won the NEWMAC conference race. Crew seniors Briana Tomboulian and Rowan Van Ness were named to the NEWMAC all-conference team.

Perhaps most important, Smith’s teams continued their successful campaign against our across-the-river and across-the-state rivals. Basketball, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, and volleyball each beat Mount Holyoke. Smith basketball now has a two-year winning streak over Wellesley, defeating them 46-43 in the first-ever live webcast of a Smith home contest. Of course, the crew team already has a five-year winning streak over Wellesley, which they successfully defended at the New England Championship.

As always, Smith faculty distinguished themselves in their disciplines and affirmed Smith’s leadership role in higher education. Glenn Ellis, associate professor of engineering, was named professor of the year by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), receiving the country’s only -- and much-coveted -- award for excellence in undergraduate teaching and mentoring. Dan Horowitz, the Mary Huggins Gamble Professor of American Studies, was awarded a highly competitive Guggenheim Fellowship in support of his work on consumer culture. Virginia Hayssen, professor of biology, was named senior editor of the Journal of Zoology. Professor Laura Katz in Biology has won the Seymour H. Hutner Prize. Randy Bartlett, professor of economics, John Brady, professor of geology, and Patty DiBartolo ’89, professor of psychology, were named recipients of the Kathleen Compton Sherrerd ’54 and John J. F. Sherrerd Prizes for Distinguished Teaching; their awards will be presented this fall. Charis Medals, in recognition of a quarter century of teaching, scholarship and service to Smith, were awarded to Jane Bryden, Craig Felton, Donald Joralemon, Roger Kaufman, Richard Millington, Grant Moss and Dennis Yasutomo. This list represents just a sample of the grants, fellowships, prizes and recognitions awarded to the Smith faculty this year.

Like Ivy Day, Rally Day is a special moment when our alumnae and students come together to celebrate the power of a Smith education. This year, we honored five alumnae renowned for their contributions to teaching, science, medicine, public service and human rights: Irene Cebula Baird ’45; The Reverend Anne Clayton Brower ’60; Catherine Hunt ’77; Lella Gandini AC ’78; and Tammy Baldwin ’84. Rally Day also saw the awarding of teaching prizes to Professor of English Pat Skarda, and Assistant Professor of Education and Child Study Lucy Mule. The student government association presented the Elizabeth B. Wyandt Gavel Award to Jayne Mercier, administrative assistant, and Edna Howe, housekeeper in Park House, for their outstanding service to the Smith community.

Each year at this time we recognize people who have worked on behalf of the college and who are retiring from their posts. Ka’Neda Ellison ’06, past president of the SGA, will reach the end of her two-year term on the Board of Trustees this year. Trustees Jane Chace Carroll ’53 and board chair Mary Patterson McPherson ’57 are completing their terms as well. We thank them for their extraordinary service, leadership and generosity on behalf of Smith College. We welcome to the board Neil Robert Grabois; Emily Taylor ’08, SGA president; Debra Romero Thal ’77; and Toni Grotta Wolfman ’64. And we welcome Cornelia Mendenhall Small ’66 as our new board chair.

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

  • Gertraud Gutzmann, German Studies
  • Betsy Harries, English and comp lit
  • Monica Jakuc, music
  • Neal Salisbury, history
  • Paul Zimet, theatre

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

  • Elizabeth Fitzgerald Cutler ’44, Trustee Emerita
  • Eileen Diemand, Dining Services
  • Arthur Dunn, Physical Plant
  • Dr. Herman Edelberg, Associate Physician Emeritus
  • Frank Ellis, Mary Augusta Jordan Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature
  • Virginia Clegg Gamage ’37, Trustee Emerita and a former president of the Alumnae Association
  • Mary E. Giroux, retired from Physical Plant
  • Jeanette Gougeon, retired from Dining Services
  • Dr. Roselle Hoffmaster ’98, U.S. Army
  • Stephen Kelly, adjunct professor in the School for Social Work
  • Edward W. Michalowski, retired from Physical Plant
  • Norman Paulin, retired from Dining Services
  • Dr. Vera Joseph Peterson, College Physician Emerita
  • Elizabeth Dorothy Robinton, Professor Emerita in the Biological Sciences
  • Julius Robinson, Dance Department
  • Katherine Ryan, retired from the Campus School
  • Louise Whittier ’41 and Margaret Wickstrom, both retired from the Alumnae Association.

We also remember Helen Bacon, a member of the department of classical languages and literatures for nearly a decade; Harvey Picker, husband of the late Jean Sovatkin Picker ’42 and a generous supporter of Smith, for whom our Picker Engineering Program is named; and Jay Sherrerd, who, together with his wife, the late Kathleen Compton Sherrerd ’54, established the Sherrerd Prizes for Distinguished Teaching.

As we close this program, I want to take a moment to celebrate our seniors, the amazing and inspiring Class of 2008.

You are poised to go into the world, as the graduates here have before you, reaffirming and ever reinventing what it means to be a Smith alumna, a woman of distinction and a citizen of the world. The alumnae gathered with you this morning are eager to support and advise you, to welcome you to their cities and networks of friendship, to champion your endeavors and to celebrate your successes in whatever form you define them.

Turn to them as you make your way in the world, and then, later, reach back to offer your support to the women who come after you. Use your gifts well, your privileges with care and generosity. Your journey begins when you walk across this stage tomorrow; I trust it will bring you back to Smith many times throughout your life. I wish you happiness, fulfillment and godspeed.

Thank you, seniors, alumnae, parents, family and friends, for being with us this morning and throughout this weekend of festivities. With great anticipation for commencement, and for the journey our students take as they join the magnificent generations of Smith alumnae, I now declare the 2008 Last Chapel Awards Convocation to be concluded. Go forth and celebrate!