Photo by Erik Jacobs
I freely admit that I am a sucker for a good academic procession, and that a line of academic regalia can make me a little misty. But every now and then, there’s one that really does a number on the lachrymal glands. In case you missed it, the procession that took place on Sept. 30 under the massive tent on Severance Green was one of those.
It wasn’t just the happily contagious rhythms of Yanvalou’s drums coming down the aisle or the celebratory fanfares of the Boston Brass Ensemble. It wasn’t even just the festive crimsons, oranges, and ceruleans of the academic regalia.
It was the high-wattage smile on every face that went past. It was the alumnae delegates—starting with the class of ’45—who joined the long line in their class colors. It was the emeriti professors and trustees who fell in to march with their successors. And it was the former Wellesley presidents who walked along, beaming at greetings from “students” of their eras—some now in their 40s and 50s.
But more than anything else, it was the thunderous roar that went up when Wellesley’s 14th president, Paula Adina Johnson, entered the tent and took the long, joyous walk to the stage for her inauguration. It was as though Wellesley’s “extraordinary past”—as Paula called it in her inaugural address—had come together with its exuberant present to welcome its “hopeful future.”
In her address, Paula acknowledged that she stood on “the shoulders and hard-won wisdom of so many women”—of her mother, Grayce Adina Johnson, who had “a fierce belief in the power of education,” and her grandmother, Louise Young, whose struggle with depression inspired Paula to study medicine. Of her mentors and role models—including Ruth Hubbard, Harvard University’s first tenured woman biology professor, and Shirley Chisholm, her congresswoman from Brooklyn.
“In these women,” Paula said, “I see the power of education to change women’s lives and create a better world. I see the power of shared experience, shared ideas, shared commitments, across time and space, across cultures and identities. I give gratitude to them and for them. I give gratitude to be here and now, looking at our future, together.”
The vision of the future that she set out unequivocally affirmed what Wellesley’s role has been and will continue to be under her leadership. “… [T]he surest way to change our fast-moving and complex world is through empowering women,” she said. “There is no better place to accelerate and maximize the full potential of women than Wellesley College.”
It was that view of the future that brought chants of “PJ, PJ, PJ” from students, as well as a comment from Provost Andrew Shennan that the College has been “buoyed by the optimism and purpose [Paula has] brought to our campus.”
I encourage you to read excerpts of the inauguration speeches (“A Joyful Beginning,”) and enjoy the pictures in our online gallery. You might also find some of the same feeling in “For Our Old Ladies,” by Kate Erickson ’05, who offers a lovely view of the way older generations of Wellesley alumnae help shape the younger ones. And “A Call to Teach” will show you how some empowered Wellesley women are helping to change “our fast-moving and complex world.”
If you didn’t see the ceremony and want to get your True Blue on—or if you just want to relive the day—you can watch the whole thing on the College’s YouTube channel. But be warned, it gets a little loud. One of the class delegates remembers, “When President Johnson appeared, I thought the roof of the enormous tent … was going to lift off and go into orbit.” Have your hankies ready.