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Commencement Speakers Offer Inspiration to Mount Holyoke Graduates; Teach for America Founder Wendy Kopp Shares Lessons Learned

Contact: Allison Gillis, 413-538-2030,; Kevin McCaffrey, 413-538-2987,; both with Mount Holyoke College Office of Communications


SOUTH HADLEY, Mass., May 29 /Standard Newswire/ -- Carrying bright yellow daisies to match their class color, the 2007 graduates of Mount Holyoke College processed into Gettell Amphitheater under sunny skies for the College's 170th commencement Sunday, May 27.


Commencement speaker Wendy Kopp, founder and president of Teach for America, told the 521 graduating seniors of lessons learned in taking her idea of a national teacher corps from a senior thesis at Princeton University in 1989 to a corps of 3,500 serving 375,000 students each year. "I have become convinced of two things that may be worth thinking about as you head out into the world seeking to make a difference in the field of your choice," Kopp told graduates. "First is the power of inexperience, and the second is the importance of time."


Teach for America wouldn't have been possible, Kopp noted, if it weren't for her inexperience. "There's something about the fresh perspective, the naivete, the limitless energy that comes along with inexperience that enables recent graduates to solve problems that many more experienced people have given up on." People thought Kopp was crazy when she proposed a national teacher corps that recruits young people to teach in low-income communities. But one year after she graduated, she raised $2.5 million and had 489 recent college graduates as part of Teach for America's first corps.


"The world needs you before you accept the status quo, before you are plagued by the knowledge of what is impossible. I hope you will put your inexperience to good use. Ask your naive questions. Set your audacious goals," Kopp said.


Sitting in the audience was Sara White, a 2004 graduate of Mount Holyoke and a Teach for America corps member, along with one of her current students. "I have a great appreciation for Mount Holyoke," Kopp said, "because I've seen firsthand through the Mount Holyoke alums who work within Teach for America that this institution produces committed and inspired leaders."


Student speaker Sara E. Richards, a German studies major from Knoxville, Tennessee, connected her fellow classmates to the group of 166 women who graduated from Mount Holyoke 100 years before them in 1907. "Those women who sat where you are sitting today couldn't vote. They had no political representation in Congress. Professional opportunities were limited. Life after Mount Holyoke looked quite different in 1907. Yet even with such momentous, historic events that separate us from those women today, there is something, even if wholly intangible, that links us to those 166 women 100 long years ago."


Richards noted the commonalities between the women past and present in the uncertainty of what lies ahead, the understanding of being female, and the connection to the Mount Holyoke community.


"We leave Mount Holyoke tomorrow to begin our own new stories and histories. These buildings will come and go. Women will come in and out of this amphitheater, but the community built here, the history, will remain. And wherever you are in the world, you will still hold a place in this community."


The class of 2007 was also lauded by three honorary degree recipients, two of whom were Mount Holyoke alumnae. Debra Martin Chase '77, a Hollywood movie producer, spoke of her life-changing decision to quit practicing law and make movies. "Dream the biggest dream you can possibly dream, and understand that you have the power within you to make those dreams come true," she said. Also receiving honorary degrees were Eleanor Reed Adair '48, a leading scientist in the field of microwave radiation, and Lt. Cmdr. Charles D. Swift, the Navy lawyer who led the successful Supreme Court challenge of the Bush administration's military tribunals for Guantanamo detainees.


Directly after the commencement ceremony, Rebecca H. Campbell '07 of Ewingville, N.J., was commissioned into the United States Marine Corps. Participating in the ceremony was Colonel Ernestine Stowell '43, USMC Retired. It was at Mount Holyoke that the first group of women to become commissioned officers in the Marine Corps trained in 1943, during the Second World War.


Links to text and audio of select speeches can be found at: