President's Pen Fall 2016

In their 2014 book How College Works, Daniel F. Chambliss and Christopher G. Takacs write about the way in which the social world of college “spreads out from a small circle of two or three close friends, to a wider group of routine acquaintances in the dorm . . . or classes, to a much wider, looser network of familiar faces and recognized groups.” I am powerfully reminded of these networks and a sense of belonging whenever I meet and work with groups of Mount Holyoke alumnae. Amid the excited chatter and energetic greetings, there are names of classmates and memories of events—ties that bind us to a place, wherever we may meet, to a time, often layered with subsequent visits and experiences, and to the company of others. Classes just a few years or many decades apart are united by common experiences among uncommon individuals and by an emotional bond that seems somehow written into the ink of the diploma.

I see these connections in the recruitment efforts of alumnae, from giving flowers to elfing. I see it in volunteer efforts and giving, in the sharing of internships and in other forms of access to professional networks. We all experience it, electrically, at Reunion, and in the intergenerational ritual of scarving, when the fiftieth-reunion class bestows upon graduating seniors a scarf in their class color during Commencement ceremonies, a culmination and a beginning.

ss_pp_fall2016.jpgMost recently, in Mumbai, India, I experienced this Mount Holyoke bond as passion to share education, experience, and opportunity with a group of high school girls in the program MHC Shakti, designed to ignite leadership among young women in India. Alumnae Shoba Narayanaswamy Narayan CG’87, Vijaya Pastala ’89, and Gayatri Rangachari Shah ’94 coordinated panels of alumnae and other leading women to inspire the thirty-nine students, ages fifteen to nineteen, to lead in their way—and, meanwhile, engaged in some “sidelines sisterhood” themselves. These are the moments when the sense of belonging is most visible and energizing, because of a shared focus of attention directly connected to the Mount Holyoke mission and experience.

Such instances of connection are the ways in which, collectively, we “shape the available pathways into membership’s inner rooms,” as Chambliss and Takacs write. As we break ground on the new Community Center, and welcome the class of 2020, it seems especially important to honor, foreground, and sustain our sense of belonging.