At Wellesley’s First Virtual Convocation, President Johnson Says “This Is What Hope Looks Like”
“We have yet to see our brightest days. The sun will keep rising over ‘East Side, Beast Side’ and will keep setting over ‘West Side, Best Side,’” said College Government President Tatiana Ivy Moise ’21 at Wellesley’s first virtual convocation on September 2. The event was livestreamed and recorded due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
From an empty auditorium in Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall, President Paula A. Johnson, Andrew Shennan, provost and Lia Gelin Poorvu ’56 Dean of the College, Jacquelina Marquez, dean of religious and spiritual life, Moise, and Hope D’Erasmo ’21, chief justice of the Honor Code, addressed students on campus and around the world, faculty, and staff.
The auditorium in Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall sat empty for convocation this year. The College decided to livestream the event, even though some students have returned to campus, to promote and maintain physical distancing. Alexander Diesl, College marshal, and Theresa Mall Mullarkey Associate Professor of Mathematics, gave a brief welcome to the community.
“When I think about my hopes for this new academic year, I first think about our Wellesley family, united in one spirit and heart, that crosses distances and screens,” said Marquez in her opening remarks. “This afternoon, let us pause for a brief moment of reflection and prayer, each in our own way, for the world, the Wellesley community, and for ourselves.”
“Convocation marks the dawn of a new academic year. Today doesn’t feel like the start of something, though. It feels like the middle of something—the middle of a momentous effort by our entire community to live out our educational mission in the midst of pandemic. Just to be here, we have already had to overcome so many challenges, we have already had to plan and prepare like never before,” Shennan said.
“We have already—each of us—had to do so much thinking and soul-searching—on Zoom calls, around kitchen tables, with our colleagues, with our families, with our friends, in the quiet of our own thoughts,” he continued. “The faculty has had to reimagine and reorganize our curriculum. The administration has had to reconfigure our campus spaces, rethink the routines and practices of our residential life, and support students and faculty all around the world. Wellesley students, whether you are studying remotely or on campus, have had to adapt to change in every aspect of your college experience. We wouldn’t be here today if we hadn’t already persevered, if we hadn’t already—collectively—shown our commitment to the work of intellectual and personal discovery we do together here.”
“Of course, there is darkness. But there is also light,” Johnson said. “And our job now is to extend that light.”
“In a wonderful essay collection called The Book of Delights, author Ross Gay poses this compelling question: ‘What if we joined our sorrows…What if that is joy?’ There is so much wisdom in this. In a time when joy may feel in short supply, we are called on to get creative, to mine our shared humanity for its hidden riches. Last spring, when everything hung in doubt, I wrote that hope is an action. What I meant by this is to move from hope to reality, we must do the footwork. Today, I challenge all of us to unite in that effort.”
“This will be a year unlike any other, but for all the challenges that lie ahead, I could not be more hopeful about the power of our community. Physical distance is no match for the power of our bonds. Whether we’re six feet or many miles apart, we are ever, always Wellesley. I know that you will rise to the moment as you always do. Together, we can build a better world. And this is what hope looks like.”
Moise opened her remarks with an acknowledgment that Wellesley College is located on the ancestral and unceded lands of the Massachusett and Wampanoag peoples, and she briefly noted the history of slavery and the exploitation of Black people in the United States, and their connections to the building and maintaining of institutions of higher education. “To publicly recognize these things is imperative as only the first step in understanding that colonialism and exploitation have not been left in our past. Rather they are ongoing processes, and we must be mindful in actively working against our participation in them,” Moise said.
“I’ve come to realize that the ‘differences in the world’ all Wellesley students are destined to make will range in size, but none will be any more or less significant. All of us are butterflies, with our own magnificent and one-of-a-kind set of wings. What will the flap of yours set off?” Moise asked.
From her home in Leesburg, Va., Hope D’Erasmo spoke to the College community via Zoom. “The Honor Code here is comprised of three values—honesty, integrity, and respect. In a normal academic year, we like to say that the Honor Code is at the heart of all academic and social life at Wellesley. While this has been true in the past, it has certainly never been more literally true than it is this year,” D’Erasmo said. “We have an obligation to each other not just to show integrity by being academically honest in classes, but also through following public health and safety guidelines to ensure that we can live safely. Respect for one another looks like not just being able to leave your bag for five minutes in [the Science Center], but working to make sure that Wellesley is as accessible as it can be, both in the short term by wearing masks in public spaces and in the long term by working to dismantle structural inequalities.”
Thousands of viewers tuned in to watch convocation on WellesleyLive and Facebook Live. On social media, students posted photos of themselves in their class colors, faculty shared photos of themselves (and their pets) dressed in their academic regalia, and staff marked the occasion by sending out well wishes and wearing green in honor of seniors.