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.
Leadership is an inherently social endeavor, rooted in listening and conversing, gathering and collaborating, envisioning and engaging. While the College has long cultivated leaders of thought and action, we are thrilled to introduce a new hub that is specially dedicated to the social aspects of the endeavor.
From the Fall 2017 Alumnae Quarterly President's Pen
From the Summer 2017 Alumnae Quarterly President's Pen
It is an inescapable and heartwarming truth about Mount Holyoke that we are invested in a tradition of traditions. At no time in the academic year, and at no moment during the career of a student, is this more apparent than during the commencement exercises. Not for nothing did one person, about halfway along the path of this year’s laurel parade, offer up a box of tissues. We laughed at her prescience, knowing that, as the new graduates reached the generous ranks of the fiftieth-reunion class of 1967, who were lining the way to Mary Lyon’s grave, there wouldn’t be a dry eye in the parade.
From the Spring 2017 Alumnae Quarterly President's Pen
If the notion of “return on investment” is a new way of students, parents, policymakers, and the wider public measuring higher education, it’s not a new idea. The value of the liberal arts—and the adventure of discovery that a Mount Holyoke education represents—have always been understood and promoted as an investment in the future, in a life of learning, and as preparation for professional success. What those professions and successes look like has changed many times over the course of Mount Holyoke’s history, especially in the twentieth century, which saw shifts in college career services from vocational guidance to job placement and from career planning and counseling to professional networking. These paradigm shifts reflect social change as much as they do the evolution of work and jobs. Today this means that personal and career development are core to the work of college and that career services have evolved to support that work and to create the communities and networks that position our students for success.
Ever wonder how the campus is heated? Hint: It involves five hot fires, boiled water, a steam turbine generator set and an extensive network of underground pipes — aka the north and the south loops. The process generates seven percent of the College’s electricity.
Watch the video to learn more about the efficient role of the central heating plant, courtesy of Richard Bigelow, associate director and chief engineer of facilities management.
Full steam ahead!
From the Winter 2017 Alumnae Quarterly President's Pen
A strategic planning process, as much as a process to envision and revitalize, is a moment for self-analysis and reflection about what we do well. It is an opportunity to review and recommit to our vision and values; a moment to identify what distinguishes us as an institution; and a time to set higher goals for achievement in those areas of distinction.
The Plan for Mount Holyoke 2021 charts a course for the next five years that anticipates a much longer-range future. It does so confident in what Mount Holyoke represents—a place committed to women and gender equality, academic excellence, liberal education, diversity, leadership, global understanding, and environmental awareness and sustainability—and with renewed energy to make salient (and attractive to current and future students, faculty, and staff) the experience that is the College. This means striving to be yet more exceptional in those areas we claim as such. It also means new commitments.
Season after season and year after year, the beauty of Mount Holyoke and the light of learning connect us, across generations and across the world.
In “What Shines,” Marjory Wentworth ’80, poet laureate of South Carolina, evokes this sense of wonder and shared experience. May her poem, set to music by composer Nathan Jones and performed by the Glee Club for Vespers 2016, bring you a moment of connection to the College, to your own memories, and to friends near and far.
Resilience—and good, balanced decisions. Prudence—and expediency.
After the devastating fire of 1896, the College took a series of actions that continue to resonate to this day. Magical and phoenixlike, key elements of Mount Holyoke’s unconventional and beautiful campus rose out of the ashes in an amazingly fast fashion. Yet with an equally impressive level of classic grandeur and detail.
Hear the details courtesy of Paul Breen, director of facilities management and planning.
Built. To. Last. Enjoy the video!
To what extent will the new Community Center contribute to the College’s sustainability efforts? In fantastic and exciting ways. Gain a glimpse into the construction of this game-changing building on campus—featuring solar panels, dehydrator digester units, and other state-of-the-art equipment—courtesy of Paul Breen, director of facilities management and planning.
It’s hard-hat time. Enjoy the video!
My first Mountain Day as acting president was nothing short of a thrill. It was a wonderful day to hike. The leaves were just turning. And there were loads of students and faculty at the summit, taking in the great views of the river.
From the Fall 2016 Alumnae Quarterly President's Pen
In their 2014 book How College Works, Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs write about the way in which the social world of college “spreads out from a small circle of two or three close friends, to a wider group of routine acquaintances in the dorm . . . or classes, to a much wider, looser network of familiar faces and recognized groups.” I am powerfully reminded of these networks and a sense of belonging whenever I meet and work with groups of Mount Holyoke alumnae. Amid the excited chatter and energetic greetings, there are names of classmates and memories of events—ties that bind us to a place, wherever we may meet, to a time, often layered with subsequent visits and experiences, and to the company of others. Classes just a few years or many decades apart are united by common experiences among uncommon individuals and by an emotional bond that seems somehow written into the ink of the diploma.
Welcome to a new academic year at Mount Holyoke College—marked by the spirited tradition of Convocation. There is much to celebrate today, and every day, in this dynamic community of students, faculty, and staff. At my first Convocation as acting president, I am honored to kick off the semester alongside you and amid a host of exciting changes happening all around us on campus.
“It is a real privilege to be serving Mount Holyoke in a new way.”
–Acting President Sonya Stephens
“I like the energy in the house—and there’s so much to look forward to.”
–House Manager Brenda Adams
Interview by Jennifer Grow ’94 for the Summer 2016 Alumnae Quarterly
Just before Sonya Stephens received the torch—literally and figuratively—from outgoing president Lynn Pasquerella ’80 in a student-organized “Olympic” ceremony in the spring, the Alumnae Quarterly sat down with the College’s next leader to talk with her about her transition from vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty to the work that she plans to focus on during her appointed three-year term as the College’s acting president.
As I step into the position of acting president, I am more reflective than usual about the long history of the College and symbolism of the threshold. In the early days of Mount Holyoke, when one student, arriving at the new seminary, found no steps leading up to the entrance, she walked around to the back of the building, where Mary Lyon greeted her with the words: “Come right up the stairs. You have come to help us.” And there is something still important today about that sense of collective endeavor.