Convocation 2009

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Convocation Address

August 28, 2009
President Pamela Fox


It is my honor as your President to formally welcome you to the community of Mary Baldwin University.  You have been gathering within your Leadership Gateways, building friendship circles already around common commitments.  Our leadership gateways capture the essentials of a Baldwin woman today:  academic excellence, leadership, pride in culture and community, service to others, commitment to a healthy lifestyle, and readiness for a career.  This morning we bring you together to create the class of 2013 and to enhance the classes of 2011 and 2012 with our transfer students.

Come Together is a key theme for us today and for us as a college this year. We are united as one college.  You join fellow Mary Baldwin students who entered through our Baldwin Online and Adult Programs gateway and students in our three graduate programs here on campus and in our regional centers throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Our united student body is 2250 strong. For 168 years our college has welcomed women from a broad spectrum of ages and backgrounds. Mary Julia Baldwin herself was 14 years old when she entered the first class of the Augusta Female Seminary in 1842.

We come together here on Page Terrace, named for dedicated Mary Baldwin employee Barbara Kares Page, before the majestic columns of Grafton Library, named for Martha Stackhouse Grafton who was Dean at Mary Baldwin for 50 years.  In 1964 as construction on this library began, students raised $6000 through creative ideas such as paying 25 cents for the privilege of wearing shorts to class!  When these planters were installed, the trucks couldn’t pull up, so students formed a bucket brigade to fill them.  There is a compelling story behind each building.  I want you to feel the deep spirit of place residing under the beauty of these verdant hills and to know our history.

My heart is truly filled to overflowing with the promise you hold. We are so grateful for the gifts you each bring. You enrich our community, our diverse and inclusive community, as you become part of the landscape of “we.”  Just look around.  Mr. Layman and I look forward to knowing each of you.
You are Baldwin women now. Boldly Baldwin women. You join the ranks of Baldwin women who have come before you, your sisters across the ages and around the globe, the confident, compassionate, changemakers, who are there for you as mentors and friends.  Draw from your student leaders and classmates.   As Baldwin women, we live our values every day.  We are women of integrity, living by our code of conduct and code of honor.  We protect our environment.  We are kind and greet each other with the warmth of community.

And remember the 4% advantage:  you join the elite group of about 50 women’s colleges in the United States.  While only 4% of the nation’s college-educated women are graduates of women’s colleges, they are recognized for an amazingly high percentage of professional attainment, including 20% of the women in Congress, one-third of women board members of Fortune 1000 companies, 20% of the most powerful African American women in corporate America; and an amazing array of first such as our own Anna Jarvis who invented Mother’s Day.  You will be twice as likely to earn PhD’s and attend medical school as women who attend coed institutions.

Page Terrace is one of our most sacred spaces, a space of special meaning.   We will assemble here again for your commencement.   Who will you be four years from now, when you walk toward me and I hand you your diploma?  Here is my charge to you today:  compose your life.  Compose a life of purpose, of confidence through knowledge, of compassion with hearts on fire, of the courage to realize the power of your potential to be a changemakers.
No two of you will have the same experience.  Your path will not be linear.  It will have twists and turns, dead-ends, and amazing open doors.  There will be disappointments that can become opportunities.  This happened to me in my senior year in college.  As I sat in front of the 9-foot Steinway piano on stage, playing the 4th movement of a Brahms piano sonata, I fractured this finger.  I finished the recital, but my dreams of being a concert pianist were gone.  Eventually this shift led me here to be your president.

I offer three themes to guide you as you compose your life here

First, academic excellence.

Compose your life through the magic of learning and the mystery of the imagination, in the crucible of the classroom and in your mind as your dynamic vessel of exploration.  Light the fire of learning.   As the architect Frank Lloyd Wright stated, “The heart is the first feature of working minds.”  You can engage one-on-one with gifted faculty in research opportunities unprecedented at most other colleges.  21st century problems can’t be solved by knowing just one discipline.  You are likely to have many jobs in the ten years after your graduation.  This is the benefit of a liberal education, and the joining of theory and practice through the internships and Changemaker jobs you can hold here on campus.  Gather at the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement to serve the community and explore the world.  Pursue majors and minors, engage in clubs, occupy leadership positions. And remember the words attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt:  “Great minds discuss ideas.  Average minds discuss events.  Small minds discuss people.”

Second, traditions.

Compose your life by marking meaning across the seasons within Mary Baldwin’s cherished traditions:  signing the Honor Code next week on Charter Day; Apple Day—come with me to glean apples and then enjoy the carnival; Founder’s Day, as seniors don their graduation robes; Junior Dad’s and Family Weekend as you receive your class ring; Christmas Cheer; Kwanza; Signature Ball; VWIL parades; experiencing the arts, cheering on the Fighting Squirrels while singing our fight song; and forging lifelong friendships.  As we celebrate traditions this year two graduates will inspire you.  On Charter Day next week Major Sherri Sharpe will represent the Board of Trustees.  She was in the first graduating VWIL class and has served three tours of duty commanding Chinook helicopter units in Iraq and Afghanistan.  On Founder’s Day Christian Peele will share her story.  She came to Baldwin at age 13, earned the highest academic honor at her 2005 commencement, was the youngest woman to receive a master in Divinity from Duke University, and is about to start her internship at The White House. Traditions define community and guide your transformation.

Third, your fellow students. Compose your life by learning from each other.  This is one of the most diverse colleges in America.   Baldwin will surprise you.  You may not expect what you discover. Command the heart and courage to affirm the excellence in others.  You can be yourself here.  Refuse to be a category.  Go beyond category.

Compose your life, guided by these three themes:  academic excellence, traditions within community, and learning from each other.  If you accept the possibilities, I assure you that you will graduate as world ready thinkers for our time, with a resume for your career and a resume for your life.
Make Baldwin a verb.  Conjugate yourself.

Boldly Baldwin women, we are:

Confident—we risk more and dare to make a difference.

Compassionate—we care more and have the courage to serve.

Changemakers:  We engage more.  Baldwin women do.   Baldwin women are changing the world.

When the flame is passed on Sunday evening at candle lighting, it represents all that is best about boldly Baldwin women.  Receive it with pride.  You may not remember much of what I have said this morning, but please do not forget the passion and tone behind my words.  We believe radically in you.  Believe radically in yourself.  Believe you deserve the best.  Always respect yourself.  My heart is on fire with your promise.   As Zelda Fitzegerald said, “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.”

Mr. Layman and I offer you every good wish and our genuine affection.  We share the anticipation of your aspirations.

Thank you very much.