Remarks at Ivy Day 2014
President Kathleen McCartney, Ivy Day, May 17, 2014; All Reunion Weekend, May 24, 2014
Good morning and welcome!
All year, I have heard that Ivy Day is a beautiful tradition. Now I know this to be true.
The sight of all of you marching in, dressed in white, is so moving. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
It is a pleasure to welcome you home to Smith College.
This morning, we gather, as a community, to celebrate all of you, to celebrate Smith, and to celebrate the power of Smith in the world.
As I begin, I want to speak directly to the class of 2014.
Tomorrow, we honor your accomplishments—and there are many. Record-breaking Fulbright awards; a Rhodes Scholar; outstanding academic honors; exciting victories for our sports teams (go, Pioneers!).
For now, though, I have a more modest request for you. During moments like this, developmental milestones, it is good to pause.
Look around you. Savor this moment. Make a memory you will bring back to each reunion.
Today, you begin your transformation from Smith student to Smith alumna.
Your finals are done.
Your last paper is completed.
Your library books are returned. (They are, right?)
As you sit here today, you join a community like no other I have known. You are the newest links in a long ivy chain.
In the years ahead, you will gain strength from this community. You will take pride in your classmates and fellow alumnae as you learn of their successes. You will contribute to your communities and to the world. You will manifest the commitment that all Smithies share—working to make the world more equitable, more just.
You are leaders.
You are women for the world.
You are Smith.
In return, this college—your college—will forever be your intellectual home… A place that you return to, again and again, for support, sanctuary and sustenance.
For all of you here today—students and alumnae—Smith was the setting from which you launched—or relaunched—yourself into the world.
Alumnae, think about all of your travels since you marched through the Grecourt Gates. I’m sure you can recall moments in your life that were thrilling, moments that you hoped would never end.
The class notes in the Smith Alumnae Quarterly are filled with stories of celebration from women across the generations.
“I’m finally a published novelist, after years of trying,” proclaimed an alumna from the class of 1955.
“I’m six months cancer-free,” cheered a member of the class of 1984.
“At 61, I’ve found love,” said an alumna from 1972.
Someone from the class of 1939 was simply glad to still be among family and friends. When asked about her summer plans, she quipped, “Survival!”
You experienced loss, upheaval, and frustration as well.
“Life took an unexpected turn when my husband and I separated after almost 30 years together,” proclaimed a member of the class of 1974.
“Had to close my business after 28 years. A tough economy,” said someone from the class of 1967.
“Please pray for our family as we cope with the loss of our young son,” asked a member of the class of 1980.
Life takes many turns.
In the summer of 1969, when he was turning 70, The New York Times asked the writer E.B. White to reflect on his life and times.
“What bothers you about the world?” the reporter asked him.
I love White’s response:
“If the world were merely seductive,” he said, “that would be easy.
“If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem.
“But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world.
“This makes it hard to plan the day.”
I find myself reflecting often on this tension.
Saving the world.
Savoring the world.
Why do we have to choose? I’m not sure we have to choose.
One of my greatest pleasures of the past year has been traveling the world to meet alumnae. Some of my new alumnae friends are here with us today. Your stories about the role Smith plays in your lives are sometimes funny, often poignant.
Here’s what I’ve learned from you: Smithies “save” and “savor” in equal measure.
Improving the world is a source of joy and pleasure.
I want to share some examples.
Jamie Cooper-Hohn, class of 1987, is someone who has long inspired me. She founded an organization known as the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation. Her goal is bold: to eliminate poverty and improve the lives of children in developing economies.
Last year, her foundation made a $787 million global commitment to eradicate malnutrition among mothers and children.
The joy, Jamie says, comes when she sees the results of her work firsthand. “That first time you see that you’ve changed lives is exhilarating,” she has said. “It gives you the desire to do more, and do it well and consistently.”
Saving and savoring the world.
Rachel Willis, class of 2004, is doing remarkable work as an educator. A few years ago, she won one of the top prizes in education, the Milken Educator Award, for her innovative approach to teaching.
Today, she is a director at Teach for America. She is inspiring a new generation of educators to address the problems in urban public education—just as she did.
The joy in her work, Rachel says, comes from knowing that she is helping children reach their full potential. “Teaching is one of the most important careers you can have,” she has said. “I know the work I do is giving students the building blocks they need to prepare for life as successful adults.”
Saving and savoring the world.
Aimee Christensen, class of 1991, is leading a major effort to reduce corporate America’s environmental footprint. As the founder of her own company dedicated to green business, Aimee encourages businesses to adopt more sustainable and environmentally friendly practices.
She has worked with big-name brands like the Virgin Group, Google, and Duke Energy to move them away from so-called dirty fuels to renewable sources of energy, like wind, solar, and geothermal power.
Her work has had a profound impact on the corporate landscape. Three years ago, she became the first American to be named the Hillary Institute of International Leadership’s global laureate for exceptional leadership in addressing climate-change issues.
She finds great joy in knowing that the work she does now will have long-term benefits in creating, as she has said, “a healthier, more prosperous, clean, and secure world.”
As we save...and savor...we would do well to remember this:
Smith is not only a place.
It’s not merely an experience.
Smith College is a movement.
I love the sentiment behind this phrase.
It’s not my phrase. It was coined by Susan Goodall, a member of the class of 1983.
It’s perfect. It speaks to our history and to our future. It reminds us that we have things left to do, more to accomplish, problems to solve, ideas to push forward.
Smith is a movement for fairness and equality.
For access. For fair pay. For women’s leadership in fields like business and science, where women’s voices and ideas are desperately needed.
The good news is that women attend college in higher numbers than men, and are starting businesses at a faster clip than men; the bad news is that they are often left out of top leadership positions.
As my friend Sheryl Sandberg says, “This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives.”
That’s not good for our society, it’s not good for our families—and it’s our job to empower women through our work. We need more women capable of not merely problem solving, but also implementing solutions from the highest positions.
That’s why places like Smith continue to be so important.
Research shows that graduates of women’s colleges hold a disproportionately higher number of leadership positions in professional fields.
They are more likely to pursue—and maintain—careers in science, technology, and medicine.
And women’s college graduates are more willing to step forward and run for public office.
Women are the unconventional thinkers who question the status quo.
The ability to lead is nurtured and developed here at Smith every day. You know this…. We need to ensure that more women hear it.
Smith is a movement of women helping women.
This is evident here today. Each of you has in some way benefited from those who came before you. That is how it should be. We are stronger when our successes are shared.
I am where I am today in large part because of the help and guidance I received from my female mentors and colleagues. They believed in me and helped me believe in myself.
Research shows: when we help each other—as advocates, mentors, or sponsors—the benefits are far-reaching. The economy grows, communities thrive, families are stronger.
We always hear about the amazing, and often serendipitous, ways Smithies help other Smithies.
Here is just one example:
An alumna’s car broke down in the middle of rush hour traffic just outside Philadelphia. Who helped her out? A fellow Smithie who pulled over after seeing the Smith College bumper sticker.
The lesson here: get a Smith bumper sticker!
Put it on your bike. Put it on your car. Proclaim Smith loud and proud.
Seriously, though, there are countless situations of jobs being brokered, new careers being launched, and lives being changed—all because one Smithie reached out to another one and made a connection.
The global network we share is one of our most valuable assets. I encourage you to use it—through all of life’s twists and turns.
Graduates, whatever you do, I know you will go forth with boldness, as Smithies always do.
You will do something grand, something important, something you believe in.
You will put your heart in it, and make it matter.
Let us all remember to savor the world, even as we save it.
Even if that makes it hard to plan our day.
Alumnae, I know you will welcome our new graduates with open arms. You will encourage them, as other alumnae encouraged you. Help today’s graduates know that they will forever be a part of this great institution, and this remarkable movement we call Smith College.