Writing this from the confinement necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been thinking a great deal about the history of pandemics and about what it must have been like in the fall of 1918, when the influenza epidemic caused at least 219 Mount Holyoke students to fall ill and the College to set up emergency hospitals. Others were cared for in the dormitories, before the hospitals were ready. Four students contracted pneumonia, and, sadly, one died: a first-year student from Pennsylvania, Elizabeth M. Smith, class of 1922, who, according to President Mary Woolley, suffered “a very acute infection from the beginning.” Some of you may recall the article by Olivia Lammel ’14, “Campus Under Quarantine,” published in the winter 2015 edition of the Alumnae Quarterly, alongside an interview with Miriam Aschkenasy ’94, who at the time served as deputy director of global disaster response at Massachusetts General Hospital. Who could have foreseen that, within five years of this feature, we would be living through a pandemic of such consequence? And the more I read and think about COVID-19, the representations of the facts, the questions without answers, and the parallels of history and fiction, the more it reminds me that what this College and its community do matters, in these times and always.
It’s been 20 years since political scientist and Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam described the decline of communal activity and community in America in “Bowling Alone,” and, with the publication of an updated edition expected later this year — an edition that explores the impact of social media and the internet on this phenomenon — it is clear that Putnam’s concerns have a continuing, and perhaps even greater, relevance today.
The semester is well underway, and everywhere I go on campus there is a sense of shared endeavor in the pursuit of a Mount Holyoke education. I see stacks of books on tables from the library to the Dining Commons. I see desk lamps glowing late in the windows of our residence halls, as the rain and leaves start to fall. And I see students in deep reflection and conversation, their faces lit up by screens of every size — and by ideas and determination. There is here a common pursuit, and often collaboration, but, as I said at Convocation, there is also independence of thought and action, the questioning of received ideas, creative energy and imaginative engagement with democracies of thought and knowledge. It’s hard, in the midst of such evidence of faculty and students committing themselves to this “intellectually adventurous education in the liberal arts and sciences,” not to be in awe of both the magic and the very real challenge of such a learning experience and environment. It is, in the truest sense of the word, awesome.
From the Spring 2019 Alumnae Quarterly President's Pen
It's that time in South Hadley when the crocuses and daffodils are blooming all over campus, which means not only that spring has finally arrived but that we are about to graduate the seniors — the class of 2019 — and enroll a new class, the class of 2023, sphinxes both. It’s all about yellow!
From the Winter 2019 Alumnae Quarterly President's PenThe current exhibition at the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum “The Promise of the Infinite: Joan Jonas and the Mirror” is a microcosmic reflection of the extraordinary, groundbreaking work of Joan Jonas ’58 and also reminds us of the power of the arts, and indeed of the liberal arts.
Jonas’ originality derives from her unusual forms and the connections she makes between performance (sets, costumes, props, scripts, choreography, music and sound), installation and drawing, which, in combination with video, present to the spectator complex perspectives on art, life and what it means to be human. Jonas says, “My work is about layering, because that’s the way our brains function. We think of several things at the same time. We see things and think another, we see one picture and there’s another picture on top of it. I think in a way my work represents that way of seeing the world — putting things together in order to say something.”
As we look forward to the promise and possibilities of 2019, we offer you and your loved ones our best wishes for the new year.
We also offer a visual celebration of the spaces we share: from art studios to center stage. From the Dining Commons to the stacks. From the Makerspace to the archives. From the chapel to the gates. From the Field House to the greenhouse. Brightly shines the beacon that is Mount Holyoke — sparking intellectual and social progress the world over.
With all the excitement of Commencement and Reunion behind us, it is with great anticipation and resolve that we engage in the deep work of summer, in preparation for the fall and the return of the students. While the rhythm is different — and repairs to the clock in Mary Lyon Hall make the hours seem longer and slower — the work itself is more concentrated and more urgent. Perhaps, for me, this sense of urgency is amplified by this moment, by the sense of entering more fully into the long (laurel) chain of Mount Holyoke’s history as the College’s 19th president. I have said to many of you, when asked how I feel about this opportunity to serve you and the College, that my first reaction (and perhaps the most enduring one) is a renewed and weightier sense of responsibility: the responsibility to preserve and advance and to protect and promote this extraordinary institution — its excellence, its beauty and its values. To do this, we must indeed work with consequential urgency and with creativity and commitment.
From the Spring 2018 Alumnae Quarterly President's Pen
Mount Holyoke College’s first known international student, Susanna Major, came from Canada and graduated in 1843. The first from outside North America, Toshi Miyagawa, was a Chinese citizen who grew up in Japan and graduated in 1893. (Learn more about Miyagawa on page 34.) Since then, we have grown to be a truly global community, with 605 international students comprising 27 percent of the College’s undergraduate population in 2017. While Massachusetts residents account for almost 20 percent of Mount Holyoke’s enrolled students, those on campus this year come from forty-five states and sixty-nine countries.
From the Winter 2018 Alumnae Quarterly President's Pen
As the finishing touches are added to the new Community Center, where contemporary dining meets the historic feel of the Mount Holyoke residential experience, we are turning our attention to the programming that will be centered in it, as well as to the opportunities represented by the vacated kitchen and dining spaces in the residence halls. In all that we are doing, there is intent to bring together creativity and analysis, to engage intellectually and socially, and to ensure that we sustain a community of imaginative learners.
As we come to the close of 2017 and look forward to the promise and possibilities of 2018, we offer you and your loved ones our best wishes for the new year.