“You Belong Here.”: Speakers welcome new and returning students at convocation ceremony

Photo by Ayla Safran ’18 Student Government Association President Camille Gladieux ’18 receives a warm welcome from her classmates.

Photo by Ayla Safran ’18

Student Government Association President Camille Gladieux ’18 receives a warm welcome from her classmates.

 

BY ANNA SHORTRIDGE ’19

Mount Holyoke celebrated the start of its 180th academic year on Tuesday, Sept. 5 with the traditional convocation ceremony. Although it was an overcast, cloudy morning, the atmosphere was anything but dreary as students dressed in various shades of blue, red, yellow, green and purple proceeded towards Gettell Amphitheater for one of the most anticipated events of the year. 

Students began to enter the amphitheater around 11 a.m. to the sound of the Five College West African Music Ensemble’s drumming. The classes entered in descending order. The class of 2021 entered first, followed by the class of 2020, the class of 2019 and finally, to thunderous screams, the class of 2018 filed in wearing their graduation gowns. 

“The atmosphere was absolutely incredible,” first-year student Martha Kent ’21 later said. “Everyone was piling in while the drums were banging and everyone was shouting and screaming and welcoming everyone, chanting each other’s years.” 

Each class was creative with their convocation attire — in the crowd there were yellow minions, a blue sumo suit, red playing cards spelling out “2018” and a green dinosaur. Professors entered dressed in full regalia and joined students in traditional Mount Holyoke chants and cheers. 

The crowd quieted down as Sonya Stephens, acting president, took the stage to welcome returning students, the class of 2021, faculty and staff. Stephens stressed community togetherness in response to the past few months of a difficult national and international political climate. “Each of you belongs here, this is your college now, your campus, your community,” said Stephens. 

She used the ongoing Blanchard expansion to discuss the importance of community building at Mount Holyoke. “Like community, a community center does not become central to our understanding of its purpose by so naming itself,” explained Stephens, “Like the classes you will teach or take, like the commitments you will make to each other, this community center and the very community it describes will only be as inclusive, vibrant and engaging as you make it.”

Next Dorothy E. Mosby, the Associate Dean of Faculty and professor of Spanish, spoke of the “beloved community” that had been discussed by such prominent figures as Martin Luther King Jr., Grace Lee Boggs and bell hooks. Mosby explained that a beloved community affirms their differences, which gives the community the ability to challenge each other to work through misunderstandings. 

“Community is a place for you to find your people, to find your allies and your co-conspirators. It is a place to question your assumptions, engage with people who are not like you and work together towards understanding and mutual valuing,” said Mosby. 

Mosby also stressed that everyone who is a part of the Mount Holyoke community must uphold the beloved community. “We are in this thing together and we must all do our part to make this place our home, our Mohome.” 

After an interlude from the Convocation choir, Staff Council Representatives Rob Roll and Heather M. Tetrault ’00 gave words of welcome on behalf of the staff, who sat at the top of the amphitheater dressed in light blue. Roll stressed that the staff at Mount Holyoke are around to help students in any way they can, whether that’s hosting a student for Thanksgiving dinner or driving someone to a dental appointment.

“We are all in this together,” said Roll, “It’s a challenging time in the world, both mentally, politically and spiritually. It can get overwhelming at times, but the staff here is here to help you.” 

As an alum, Tetrault shared some heartfelt advice with the senior class: “Linger over dinner conversations a little longer, lounge in the adirondacks, walk around lower lake and get to the top of that mountain on Mountain Day! But most importantly, laugh and love as much as you can.” 

In the final speech, Student Government Association President Camille Gladieux ’18 welcomed all back to Mount Holyoke. Gladieux recalled that on her first day at Mount Holyoke, she noticed a banner hanging across the gates that read: “Mary Lyon saw you coming.” Gladieux explained that she viewed this phrase as historically inaccurate. 

“As a Chinese-American, at the time MHC was founded in 1837, the US did not allow Chinese women to immigrate in, let alone obtain a college education.” She stressed that a dialogue must be opened up regarding the historical legacy of institutions like Mount Holyoke College that were built in a way that often kept people out. 

Emphasizing the diversity of Mount Holyoke’s campus today, Gladieux proudly said, “As I look out into our student body, I can guarantee you all that Mary Lyon couldn’t have seen us coming. However, this does not mean that we do not belong here. We all belong here.”

Gladieux emphasized the importance of being socially and globally aware of one’s actions and their impact on differing communities. 

“To start that process, we must start from within our communities. We need to engage in conversations that may make us uncomfortable, exhausted, and frustrated. We need to do better, we need to be better,” she said. “So this year, I challenge us all to go beyond our comfort zones and build the community we want to see.” 

After Stephanie Council, the director of choral ensembles and visiting lecturer in Music, led the audience in the singing of the alma mater, members of the Mount Holyoke community celebrated their return to campus over a picnic lunch on Skinner Green. Students were reunited with fellow classmates and could be heard discussing the convocation ceremony.

“My favorite part was feeling the sense of excitement,” said Julia Hecking ’19, “Everyone was so pumped and I loved hearing the advice from the alum from the class of ’00. The whole experience just made me so happy that I’m Mohome.” 

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