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State of the College Address 2010

Carol T. Christ, Tenth President of Smith College
Ivy Day, May 15, 2010; All Reunion Weekend, May 22, 2010

Good morning and welcome! It is wonderful to be with you on this occasion, when we celebrate Smith’s past, present and future.

My job this morning is to report on the state of the college.

In some ways, I need not say a word at all. I invite you to simply look around you, at this remarkable gathering of women, and know that the state of Smith -- as manifest in all of you -- is remarkable.

Across every generation, in every part of the globe, in every realm of life, you attest to the enduring power of a Smith education to better and change our world.

Let me give you just one example.

When the Haiti earthquake struck, Smith women did what they do best: they organized and took action.

Melinda Miles, class of 1998 and co-founder of the Haitian nonprofit organization Konpay, was among the first responders, ensuring that much-needed aid and supplies reached devastated communities.

UN information officer Christina Thodt Goodness, class of 1993, set up online tools so that needs could be met, and accurate and up-to-date information could be shared.

Shaila Manyam, class of 1994, a foreign service officer with the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince, volunteered to join the State Department’s disaster relief effort immediately following the earthquake.

On campus, senior Heather Stone organized a remarkable fundraising event at the Academy of Music, featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning author Tracy Kidder, which raised thousands of dollars for Haiti relief.

A number of performers that evening dedicated their work to the memories of two Smith alumnae who died in the earthquake: Ericka Chambers Norman, class of 1991, and Lisa Mbele-Mbong, class of 1993, were killed when the UN building in which they were working collapsed during the earthquake. Ericka was a board of inquiry officer with the UN, while Lisa was a human rights worker.

We continue to hold their families in our thoughts. The work they chose reflects the sense of engagement Smith women have with the world around them and the deep desire to do what they can to make it a better place.

Education for leadership -- for global women’s leadership -- is the promise that Smith makes to students and to the world.

This year, we took a number of important steps to ensure that we can continue to meet that promise for generations to come.

We completed action on our budget reduction plan, developed in response to the world financial crisis, reducing positions and pulling back somewhat on the college’s use of space, among other difficult but critically important measures.

The plan addresses present-day financial declines while, in the longer view, assuring Smith’s strength, resilience and competitive future.

None of these budgetary decisions was reached easily or lightly or without enormous consideration for their effect on people and programs. But they are essential to the college’s long-term financial stability.

As difficult as many of our choices were, one was clear. Even as we were forced to reduce our annual expenses by some $22 million, we maintained our foundational commitment to meeting students’ full demonstrated financial need.

Our plan ensures that high-achieving young women from all backgrounds will continue to have the benefit of a Smith education.

The foundation for Smith’s future is strong.

This spring, we admitted a remarkable class, selected from the largest pool of applications -- 4,015 -- in Smith’s history. Twenty-nine percent of applicants were students with citizenship outside the United States, with China as the most-represented country.

The class of 2014 is Smith’s most diverse ever, and some 16 percent are first-generation college students.

Nine percent of the entering class has a grandmother, mother or sister who attended Smith.

Among the resources available to this incoming class is the spectacular new Ford Hall, whose opening we celebrated last fall. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to walk over to Green Street and take a look.

Ford Hall is the largest science and engineering facility in the nation for women -- a fitting structure and symbol for an institution that has won more National Science Foundation funding over the last decade than any other liberal arts college!

This year saw unprecedented activism around climate change, with thousands gathering at the Copenhagen Summit to press for urgent action on global warming.

Smith finalized its own sustainability and climate action management plan, an ambitious public declaration of the college’s pledge to reduce its environmental impact. We were an early signatory to the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment -- and we are keeping our word.

Not surprisingly, Smith’s greatest carbon impacts arise from its mission as a residential college: heating, cooling, and lighting student houses and other facilities; operating an extensive dining program; and maintaining lovely grounds and buildings that date from the nineteenth century.

Nonetheless, Smith is among just a handful of colleges and universities that achieved declines in greenhouse gas emissions over the last decade. To give you an idea of our success: our emissions today are 10 percent lower than they were twenty years ago. That’s significant.

Smith women are making their mark in our nation’s capital and around the world. Just this month, Stephanie Cutter, class of 1990, began work as the president’s assistant for special projects, a role that will see her advising President Obama on key initiatives, including the implementation of the new health insurance reform legislation. Julianna Smoot, class of 1989, is the White House’s new social secretary. Farah Pandith, class of 1990, has been tapped by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to serve in the newly created position of Special Representative to Muslim Communities around the world. Carol Rodley, class of 1976, is ambassador to Cambodia. Thelma Golden, class of 1987, director and chief curator of the Studio Museum in Harlem, has been appointed to the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. Dr. Cynthia Telles, class of 1974, has been named to the Commission on Presidential Scholars, a group charged with recognizing the future leaders of our country.

Sarah Thomas, class of 1970, has led Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries to receipt of the prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize. Tori Murden McClure, class of 1985, has been named president of Louisville’s Spalding University. Luma Mufleh, class of 1997, received the Common Ground Award, presented by Queen Noor of Jordan, for her work with refugee children and families in Atlanta.

And the new play Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins is playing to great acclaim, with Kathleen Turner in the role of our beloved and much-missed member of the Smith class of 1966.

In March, Congress recognized the achievements of the women who served as WASPs during World War II, nearly sixty years after the all-female pilot corps was formed.

Among the women honored with a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress, were ten Smith alumnae. They are Lucy B. Walker, class of 1936; Ann Baumgartner Carl, Alta Corbett and Margot Ford, class of 1939; Mary Storm Ruprecht and Mary Howson, class of 1940; and Gloria Heath, Sara Chapin, Betty LeVeque, and Harriet Train, class of 1943.

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; or 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.

At commencement, 733 new Smith graduates, including 62 Ada Comstock Scholars, left this campus to begin the next chapter of their lives. They came from 47 U.S. states and 29 countries. Sixty-two of you were Ada Comstock Scholars, ranging in age from 22 to 61. Together they completed 877 majors; 144 were double majors. The most popular majors were psychology, government, economics, art and English.

I want to tell you just a bit about the class of 2010, and the common thread of ambition, talent and achievement that links them to all Smith alumnae.

First -- and perhaps most exciting: Smithies were offered 15 Fulbright Fellowships this year! Seniors going abroad are Stephanie Aldrin, Claire Denton-Spalding, Megana Dwarakanath Alyssa Greene, Adrienne Klein, Tiarra Maznick, Julie Olson, Fatinha Santos and Caroline Sutcliffe. The alumnae are April Simpson, class of 2006; Lucy Gent Foma, Amelia VanderLaan, and Anna White-Nockleby, all of the class of 2009; and Ileana Jiménez, class of 1997, who received a Distinguished Fulbright in Teaching.

Our Fulbright success rate, the number of applicants chosen as fellows, is a remarkable 83 percent -- more than twice the national average.

This is an honor of which I am enormously proud.

With this class, Smith women have received more than 100 Fulbright Fellowships in the nine years since we established our fellowships program. 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 distinguished themselves in a number of other important competitions as well. Christie Capone was awarded a DAAD fellowship to study in Germany. Emilie Lerner and Leah Schwartzman were awarded fellowships for graduate study at École Normale Supérieure in Paris. Katelyn Gerecht won a National Science Foundation fellowship. And Lillian Lamboy was named a Presidential Fellow.

Fifty-three percent of seniors did Praxis internships, gaining important professional experience in organizations around the world, including Johns Hopkins University Medical Center; Christie’s auction house; the Center for Active Volcanoes, in Hawaii; the Arms Control Association; Nickelodeon Animation Studios; Breast Cancer Action, in San Francisco; and Tibetan Children’s Village, in India.

Despite an extremely challenging employment market, Smith seniors landed on their feet, securing positions at such organizations as Apple Computer; Deutsche Bank; J.P. Morgan; Walt Disney Company; Cravath, Swaine & Moore; Teach for America; Sun Life Financial; and Children’s Hospital Boston, to name just a handful.

Smithies are entering graduate programs at leading universities around the world, including Brown University, University of British Columbia, University of Chicago, University of Edinburgh, Harvard, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, Oxford, University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, Stanford, Tufts, University of Utah, University of Wisconsin, and Yale University.

This was a terrific year for the Pioneers, and I want to salute the many contributions that seniors have made to our athletic victories. Crew won the NEWMAC championship the fifth time in eight years. Senior Etta Grover-Silva qualified for her seventh straight NCAA track and field championship in the pole vault. Senior Berit Schelde became only the 9th basketball player in Smith history to score 1,000 points in her career.

Each year at this time we recognize people who have worked on behalf of the college and who are retiring from their posts.

Ayesha Siddiqui, class of 2008, will reach the end of her term on the Board of Trustees this year. Trustees Susan Cohen, class of 1962; Ann Kaplan, class of 1967; Charlotte Kea, class of 1982; Tori Murden McClure, class of 1985; Janet McKinley, class of 1976; Judy Milestone, class of 1966; Nancy Schacht, class of 1956; and Anita Wien, class of 1962, are completing their terms as well. We offer great thanks to each of them for their dedication, wisdom and generosity on behalf of Smith College.

As of July 1, we welcome to the board Robin Casselberry Brooks, class of 1977; April Hoxie Foley, class of 1969; Lynn Smith Fox, class of 1977, president of the Alumnae Association; Katie Clark, class of 2010; Arlene Cohrs, class of 1980; Betsy Hoffman, class of 1968; and Mona Sinha, class of 1988.

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

  • Alan Marvelli, education and child study
  • Gary Niswonger, art
  • Karen Pfeifer, economics
  • Ruth Solie, music
  • Donald Wheelock, music
  • And Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, American studies, who, with her husband, Professor Daniel Horowitz, received the Honored Professor Award at commencement in recognition of their long and distinguished service to the college.

We thank each of these faculty members for their dedication to countless students, to their colleagues, to their disciplines and to the life of our community.

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

  • Gertrude Ahearn, retired from the Clark Science Center
  • Dilman John Doland, professor emeritus of psychology
  • Lawrence Fink, professor emeritus of education and child study
  • Krystyna Jaworowska, retired from the astronomy department
  • Erna Berndt Kelley, professor emerita of Spanish and Portuguese
  • William L. MacDonald, professor of art
  • Patricia Olmstead, dean emeritus of the sophomore class and of intercollegiate study
  • Igor Zelljadt, professor emeritus of Russian language and literature

And we remember Elizabeth Aakre and Kathleen Kabell, both members of the class of 2010. Our thoughts are with their families at this time. 

As students 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.

I’d like to share with you one special example in which the generosity of an alumna and her family is directly enriching the lives of students and faculty today.

Mary Gordon Roberts, class of 1960, recently honored Smith with the gift of a major painting for our museum, a highly celebrated work by the American realist painter George Bellows titled Pennsylvania Excavation. Painted in 1907, it depicts the preparations for the construction of New York’s Penn Station, the hub of a monumentally ambitious project that would transform our nation’s transportation and commerce.

It’s an extraordinary painting, and I hope you have a chance to stop by the museum to see it while you are here.

Smith is deeply honored by this gift and by the sustained commitment that Mary and her family have shown, over decades, to Smith’s educational mission.

I thank you for these and all alumnae and parent gifts, extraordinary expressions of support for Smith’s global mission and for the education of women for lives of distinction.