BY TESSA SCHWARZ '17
It was raining as the students processed into the amphitheater, but nothing could dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd at Mount Holyoke’s 2016 Convocation Tuesday morning.
First years, sophomores, juniors and seniors filled Gettell Amphitheater, displaying their class colors and, in the case of the seniors, trying out their graduation robes for the first time. Chants of “Y-O, K-E”, “Holyoke, Holy-oke” and “2017” broke out in waves across the buoyant crowd until the speakers eventually called for silence.
Acting President Sonya Stephens took the stage to remind students of the college’s humble beginnings.
“Let me take you back to the moment when the very first class arrived in 1837,” Stephens said. “One student wrote: ‘How well I remember November 18th, 1837, how uninviting the plain brick building. The bare walls seemed almost insecure from their narrow height. There were no trees, no fence, not a blade of grass, but a deep bed of sand lay all around the house.’” Stephens paused, and someone in the crowd called out “Super Blanch!” in reference to the construction on Lantern Green.
Stephens continued, “Walking past Blanchard, with its large mound of sand and active construction site, you might be forgiven for thinking that not much has changed. But the grass and the landscaping has been groomed for your return and arrival, those insecure walls now bear only fresh paint and the weight of much history and knowledge, and I hope that the brick buildings all around you now feel inviting, and that your rooms are filled with things that make these spaces home.”
The acting president highlighted the school’s recent success in college rankings, including being named fifth in the nation by the Princeton Review for the best classroom experience, and ninth for being LGBTQ-friendly.
Dean of Faculty Jon Western rose to speak next, drawing attention to the unprecedented size of the first year class — 585 new students.
“That’s bigger than we expected,” he said. “But you saw something in Mount Holyoke. You had a clarity of vision about how Mount Holyoke fit into your education plans, into your dreams. You could see clearly how a Mount Holyoke education was right for you. But of course, we shouldn’t have been surprised, because you are the class of 2020 — the class of perfect vision.”
Western emphasized that the world will change in ways that current Mount Holyoke students cannot yet imagine, but that the liberal arts education the school provides will help students adapt to these changes and thrive.
“The education you get here is designed not just to get you your first job, but to help you prepare yourself for a world to confront these challenges and I’m very optimistic,” he said.
Professor of economics Jim Hartley surprised the crowd with a recitation of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, which suddenly turned into a flash mob to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling.”
The spectacle included faculty members showering the crowd with packets of Skittles, a dancing Mary Lyon and a dabbing Lyon mascot. Faculty, staff and students stood and danced throughout the entire song, many singing along at the top of their lungs.
When the crowd eventually quieted down, Student Government Association President Marwa Mikati ’17 stood to address them, and gave some advice to the new students.
“Coming here for all of us was new at one point,” said Mikati, “and it takes a whole lot of courage to make it feel like home. We all eventually do, not only because Mount Holyoke makes us fall in love with it, but because we will it to be MoHome.”