Greetings from Trinity College
On the Occasion of the Inauguration of Jane Dammen McAuliffe ’68
As the President of Bryn Mawr College, October 4, 2008
Remarks Given By Patricia McGuire, President, Trinity Washington University
What a glorious day for Bryn Mawr College! What a proud moment for Trinity College! President McAuliffe, with me on this podium today are 12,000 Trinity alumnae, thousands more Sisters of Notre Dame, and the great women of our Trinity history across 110 years cheering wildly for you and for our very fortunate colleagues and friends here at Bryn Mawr. Today, these two great institutions come full circle, joining our traditions of women’s education and leadership across more than a century of institutional friendship.
Little did the great Bryn Mawr College President M. Carey Thomas know, when she offered advice and hospitality to several Sisters of Notre Dame here on the campus of Bryn Mawr in 1898 when they came to consult on their plans to start the nation’s first Catholic college for women in the nation’s capital – little did President Thomas know that she was making an investment of incalculable value for the future of both institutions and the thousands of women we have empowered across the generations since. Little could President Thomas have imagined, when she honored Trinity with her presence at the college’s dedication in November 1900 that the legacy of her encouragement would run down through the years to this remarkable moment.
Jane McAuliffe, you are without a doubt the best return on a long-term investment that any college can claim!
Jane, your place has long been secure among the legends of Trinity, a formidable group of leaders including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Trinity ’62) and Kansas Governor Kathleen Gilligan Sebelius (Trinity ’70) and our corporate leaders like Hearst’s Cathleen Black (Trinity ’66). But, Jane, as you know, our dear alma mater doesn’t just lavish praise on her daughters – especially those of us who are privileged to light on the high perches of leadership. Oh, no, alma mater never quite stops reminding us of her expectations for us; she is our lifelong teacher, a constant goad against self-satisfaction and contentment, a tireless voice proclaiming that our real job is to disturb the peace, incite the timid, confront the bigot, encourage the idealist, ignite some fires, illuminate the darkness – quite simply, and no less, change the world. I have no doubt that our sisters here at Bryn Mawr also recognize these high expectations inherent in the common intellectual and spiritual traditions we reverence as alma mater.
Alma mater’s great expectations haunt our days. President McAuliffe, in the years to come you will surely have occasions to wonder, as I have, whether the collegiate presidency can be more than a high class beggar, the therapist-in-chief, the vivacious cheerleader, the customer service representative, the juggler of budgets, the gracious hostess, the patient listener, the inescapable presence at too many meetings, the facilitator of all of the great human needs that flow across the campus each day. Necessary roles, yes – but the collegiate presidency is, and must be, so much more. Whenever I am tempted to stick to the benign script of some safe zone removed from the real issues of life beyond the campus, I hear the voice of alma mater calling me to higher expectations. The collegiate presidency is one of the great pulpits from which we teach our students, faculty and the larger community how to build a truly good society. Alma mater expects us to reject fear of criticism for taking a righteous stand; to muster the courage of conviction when we give voice to the values of our academy, our nation, and our many faiths: freedom, equality, human dignity, justice, peace. Silence is no role model; our students can only learn from us if they see us in action, if they hear us as advocates, if they witness our will to be change in this world.
Such is our great responsibility as presidents. But over the years I have learned that the greatest danger of the collegiate presidency is not that it is too burdensome, but rather, that we might like it too much, that in the delightful seduction of the world’s best job (which a presidency truly is), we presidents soon become risk-avoidant, not wanting to speak the hard truths or to make the difficult decisions because we do not want to jeopardize the warm feelings of our alumnae, the friendly collegiality of our faculty, the happy friendship of our students, the respected associations with business and community leaders.
The hardest part of this job is knowing what’s worth risking all of that for the sake of speaking and doing the right thing; the most important part of this job is being able to take that risk wisely. The most rewarding part of this job is living to tell the tale – and still having a few friends left with whom to share it.
What are these great risks?
There will be days, President McAuliffe, when you will hear voices of doubt about, and even opposition to, the value and purpose of an emphasis on women’s education in contemporary society. “The revolution is so over,” the doubters will say. Alma mater’s expectations will be a clarion call: who, if not we, the nation’s women’s college presidents, will remind educators and policymakers that the women’s revolution is far from over in those places where girls are still abused and discouraged from pursuing education; where conditions of poverty and violence rob women of their dignity and economic security; where schools languish as dismal swamps of failure year after year, robbing our nation’s urban children of hope for the future, of the simple justice of a decent education. We presidents of the nation’s women’s colleges must use our bully pulpits to advocate for improved education for girls as well as women, here in our American cities and in all corners of the earth; and by obvious extension, our advocacy and action for women and girls will lift up the boys and men who need good mothers and great teachers and wise leaders as well.
In these days when the woes of the very few rich distract us from the abysmal conditions of poverty that afflict the vast multitudes of the earth, alma mater expects us to be the voices that call our students and graduates to action on behalf of those who cannot act for themselves; to make personal choices that reflect a preference for public accountability; to live as guests, not owners, of the planet earth, caring for our fragile natural resources so that they will be fresh and abundant for generations to come; to seek out and destroy the still-long roots of racism and sexism and other forms of bigotry that diminish our good society; to teach our students about their responsibilities to use the great intellectual gifts that they have burnished in our classrooms in ways that will exalt human dignity for all people.
Alma mater, Trinity and Bryn Mawr, expects so much of all of us, and now especially you, my dear friend Jane, even more now that you have taken on the president’s mantle at this great college, Bryn Mawr. But she challenges you with love and affection, and with the certain knowledge that you have the gifts, the talents, the personal grace, the intellectual strength and spiritual fortitude necessary to meet these expectations well. Trinity blesses you today with the prayer that we have said across the generations: May the power, wisdom and love of the Trinity will be with you, with Dennis, with your children, students and colleagues through all of your days here at Bryn Mawr College.
Congratulations, President Jane McAuliffe! Trinity salutes you!