A Joyful Beginning

A Joyful Beginning

Photo by Erik Jacobs

Has there ever been a more full-throated celebration? The legendary Wellesley Scream Tunnel might have been surpassed by the rapturous cheers that greeted President Paula A. Johnson—Wellesley’s 14th president and the first African-American to head the College—on Sept. 30 as she processed down the aisle of the vast tent on Severance Green.

On hand to welcome her were distinguished speakers—Wellesley board chair Laura Daignault Gates ’72, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust, Smith president Kathleen McCartney, NIH senior scientist emerita Vivian Pinn ’62, and Wellesley College Alumnae Association president Georgia Murphy Johnson ’75—along with delegates from 116 colleges and universities.

Emeriti and current faculty in the medieval finery of their academic robes were there, as were alumnae delegates from the classes of 1945 to 2016, dressed in class colors and waving pennants. The 2016 NCAA Division III champion crew team marched in their blue team jackets. Yanvalou danced and drummed, and the College choir sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” often called the black national anthem. The sounds of the carillon, as well as “Alma Mater” and “America the Beautiful,” rang to the apex of the tent. Members of the community—from Provost Andrew Shennan to College Government President Zainab Younus ’17—offered greetings.

The new president smiled, laughed, and parceled out a multi-tude of hugs. And then she delivered an address to set the tone for her administration, defining a liberal arts college as “a certain kind of home: one where truth and knowledge are seen as primary values, at the core of who we are and what we do. One where it’s understood that growth comes through surmounting challenges—those that exist within us as well as in the world.”

With great joy, the Johnson era began.





‘…the surest way to change our fast-moving and complex world is through empowering women. There is no better place to accelerate and maximize the full potential of women than Wellesley College.’

‘In recent years, many have questioned the notion that the colleges should prioritize being warm and welcoming places—the idea being that this is at odds with rigorous learning.

I reject that wholeheartedly. We can—and I believe we must—have a rigorous learning community that is also a true home in the best sense of that word. Regardless of our race, ethnicity, age, religion, physical capacities; regardless of what we believe, where we come from, or who we love—all of us, all of you, deserve to be seen and appreciated for exactly who you are.

This is true of all liberal arts colleges, but it has a special significance at a school that has as its exclusive mission the education of women to make a positive difference in the world.’

‘Never in our recorded history has the complexity and speed of change been faster than our ability to keep up with it. Educating the next generation to face this pace of change, this complexity, is the consummate challenge for the liberal arts college of the 21st century.

This challenge must be met with all the force we have, the force that can be found at the intersections of disciplines, the force of looking outward—whether just outside our doors or to the other side of the globe, the force that occurs when we can, as Toni Morrison put it, “enter the other.”

Now is the time to harness this sense of urgency, and no one is better poised to meet, lead, and indeed minister this challenge, than women—and women with a Wellesley education.

To act on these imperatives will be our responsibility—and our joy. I, as your president, hear this call and pledge to mobilize our human and capital resources to live into Wellesley’s greatest possibilities.

This moment is our moment.’



The Honorable Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator

On behalf of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

“She has many strengths, but the innovative leadership and focus on community that President Johnson brings to Wellesley is especially important as the College prepares a new generation of women to be leaders in the Commonwealth, in the country, and in the world.”

Drew Gilpin Faust, President of Harvard University

On behalf of institutions of higher learning

“When Paula Johnson was a girl in Brooklyn dreaming of becoming a doctor, she could not have envisioned this day. And yet there are times and places when the stars align, and for all of us who care about higher education, today is such a time and place.”

Kathleen McCartney, President of Smith College

On behalf of institutions of higher learning dedicated to educating women

“Impressive older siblings can be a challenge. But they can also be tremendous teachers. And what Wellesley taught us all, from its very beginnings, is the world-changing impact of asking a simple, powerful question: Why not?”

Vivian Pinn ’62, Senior Scientist Emerita, National Institutes of Health

On behalf of the community of scientists dedicated to women’s health

“I have known Paula from the time when she was a medical student, and she may refer to me as one of her mentors. But, actually, I am the one who has learned so much from witnessing and experiencing her energy, her informed perceptions about women and their health and family experiences, and her exceptional talents as a mentor and supportive counselor to so many girls and women.”

Georgia Murphy Johnson ’75, President of the Wellesley College Alumnae Association

On behalf of Wellesley College alumnae

“When your selection was announced, the Wellesley alumnae Twitter world lit up with enthusiasm and anticipation of getting to meet you. As one of our alums wrote in response to your profile in Wellesley magazine, ‘I continue to be astonished and grateful for Wellesley’s continuum of magnificent presidents. Each is unique, and in step with and ahead of her times.’ You are indeed the right president at the right time. The Wellesley alumnae and I welcome you.”

The full addresses and greetings of all speakers can be watched and read at www.wellesley.edu/about/president/inauguration#live.


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