2016 Women’s College Coalition Members Commencement Speakers

Posted By Sue Anne Morgan - 06/25/2016

Agnes Scott College127th Commencement - May 14, 2016
Speaker: Alexis M. Herman - America's 23rd Secretary of Labor and member of the National Economic Council

“You have to do your part to bring down barriers of intolerance, barriers of discrimination, wherever you may meet them, because that is what is going to be required today if we are going to be called true citizens of this global community,” Herman said. “It’s a very small but complex world today, and we have to know what it means to live as brothers and sisters, as one. Dr. King always reminded us, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ So the ability to keep that banner high is on your shoulders now. You understand what it means to know other cultures, to know other languages and understand what it means to live in the world community,” she added. "Continue to build on that knowledge.”

Herman spoke about the importance, especially for women and people of color, of connecting with positive role models who will bolster self-confidence. "Listen to your hearts, lead with your souls, and follow your dreams. If you do this and march always to the beat of justice, you will not only have climbed the ladder of success, you will have made the singular difference."


Barnard College: Commencement - Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Speaker: Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter - University Professor

"We should all be feminists.  And when we claim the mantle of feminism that our foremothers have woven, together with many of our forefathers, we should wear it as a chieftain’s cloak, empowering us to stand, and stand up, for all of our sisters, and our brothers too. As Secretary Clinton proclaimed in Beijing in 1995, women’s rights are human rights.  It follows that feminism is also humanism.

Make this your day, your time, and your world. Come together, stand together, and lift each other up. For competition and for care. For equality. And above all, for humanity. For all of us as equal members of the human race across the country and around the world. And for what makes us all human, now and forevermore."


Bay Path College: Commencement - May 14, 2016
Speaker: Kirk E. Arnold - Chief Executive Officer, Data Intensity, Inc.

During her speech, Arnold highlighted the importance of believing in yourself, citing it as the key for leading a successful career and life: “Once you master believing in yourself, it will enable you to live well, this year’s Bay Path campus theme and a challenge in front of all of us.” She offered three strategies. The first, ignore your doubts and jump in. Referencing her first position in sales at IBM, she said, “I didn’t want to experience failure, so I procrastinated... [but] sitting in my office was not a strategy, so I picked up the phone and started to call customers. I jumped in. I stepped forward.” Build a personal board of directors. “A key to believing in yourself is to surround yourself with people who believe in you, support you, and to whom you have trust… who will tell you the truth, even when that truth is hard to hear,” Arnold said. Her third and final strategy: believe you will succeed but prepare for the challenges ahead. “Never doubt that in the long run, you will prevail,” she told the graduates.  



Brescia University College: Commencement - June 20, 2016
Speaker:Dr. Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay

Dr. Nazanin Afshin-Jam MacKay was conferred with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa on June 20, 2016 where she addressed the graduates of Brescia University College. She spoke about the importance of finding a passion and using that passion to succeed. She began with a story about realizing her own passion at seven years of age when she volunteered at a local soup kitchen serving food to those less fortunate. It was this experience that “planted the seeds of compassion” and “sprouted the seeds for humanitarian work.”

She shared how she realized her power to be a “voice for the voiceless” when she started a campaign for a young woman in Iran, who had been sentenced to death for fighting off her attackers. “If not now than when, if not you than who,” she said to Brescia graduates. Through her leadership, the young woman was eventually freed from prison and reunited with her family. Her story spoke to “the power of the individual.” Dr. Afsin-Jam MacKay also spoke specifically about her most recent initiative to help women and children through the ‘Nazanin Foundation’ which strives to “empower girls” lifting them out of the cycle of poverty.

“My passion drove me to work hard. Find your passion. Once you have your own dreams make it a goal.” “Listen to your heart, follow your passion, and dedicate yourself.”

Bryn Mawr College: Commencement - May 14, 2016
Speaker: Ruth J. Simmons - President Emerita, Brown University and President Emerita, Smith College

"Forgive me if this sounds less like a go forth and thrive speech and more like a call to arms because I believe that the reality that you will face in the decades ahead may not be as halcyon as the women of my generation would have wished for you. Of greatest concern to me is the possibility that unchecked bigotry, harassment, and violence against women could not only deter further gains by women but also erect significant new psychological and achievement barriers for coming generations of women. You have all achieved and you will go forth with every measure of success to which you are entitled. As you do so, remember that your freedom and your opportunities have been purchased at great cost. We owe to those who came before and those who follow us the obligation to pay attention, to speak up in the face of bigotry and exploitation. Those who benefit from the bravery of those pioneers do not merit a pass. You have been truly privileged to have the education that Bryn Mawr affords. Now, go and make it mean something."


Cedar Crest College: Commencement - May 14, 2016 
Speaker: Dr. Lorraine Soisson - Senior Technical Advisor on Malaria Vaccine Development for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington, DC. 

1. Imagine big things for yourself, but don’t be afraid to change your vision if knowledge and opportunities come along that expand what is available to you. Don’t be satisfied to live within the box
2. Be ever thankful for the motivation you receive as you pursue your goals. Motivation can come in many forms. It can come in love, support and encouragement from your families, friends and mentors. It could come from somebody telling you, you shouldn’t or couldn’t do something.
3. Find something you are passionate about and give your whole self to it. Remember that work with purpose is passion. Work without purpose is punishment.
4. The links to your past are as important to those in your future. For you, Cedar Crest is on the precipice of flowing from your present to your past. But remember that the lessons that you learned here and the relationships you made here are like a blood line enriching your tomorrow. Stay involved in the College, visit often and come back and speak to students who can learn from your experiences and guidance. While helping others, I promise you that you will enrich your own lives.


Columbia College: Commencement - April 30, 2016 
Speaker: Carla Harris - Vice Chairman, Wealth Management, Senior Client Advisor, Managing Director Morgan Stanley | Company Management   

"It is also quite special to speak at an institution whose mission is to provide students with educational opportunities that develop their capacity for critical thought and expression, lifelong learning, acceptance of personal responsibility, commitment to service and social justice, while also providing a critical offering for developing outstanding leadership capabilities. It is an honor to share the same stage with your professors who have invested their intellect and experiential background with you so that you might have the integrity and intellect required to be exceptional leaders and to make substantial contributions to society and encompass a global perspective.  For indeed this is an institution that understands that change is inevitable and growth is good as it focuses on this kind of transformational learning.  

Every industry, whether corporate, philanthropic, government, medical, religious, or academic is looking for a NEW way of doing things. The rate of technological change is like we have never seen it before in history and it necessitates a “new new” every couple  of years, which means as bright, eager, thoughtful, innovative leaders, you will have an opportunity to put your imprimatur on this world far faster than the generations that have come before you.  This is exactly the type of environment that plays to your strengths and your profile as a newly minted leader. You have been trained by this venerable institution to change, to innovate, to lead."


Converse College: Commencement - May 14, 2016
Speaker: Michel Stone - Nationally acclaimed author and Converse College alumna

“I’ve learned many lessons from my experiences as an author, a wife, and a mother, but I can assure you that it matters not whether you define yourself as any of these things. Nor does your gender, your ethnicity, your religious background, your orientation, or your social status matter. I can tell you with utmost certainty that people are much more alike than we are different, and our struggles in this world are similar. We all experience hope, joy, sadness, fear, and love. We experience birth and death and the whole range of humanness in between the two.”



Cottey College: Commencement - May 15, 2016
Speaker: Belinda Hargrove ’81 - Co-owner of TransSolutions, which specializes in computer simulation and operational excellence analyses to evaluate capacity of large facilities, primarily airports.

Belinda spoke to the graduates about being part of the Cottey family and the strong network of women they will forever have. She reminded them how Cottey has helped them discover who they are. Some words of advice:

· YOU are the one person you will spend the most time with than anyone else in your life. Be sure you like YOU. Be YOU. You are the ONLY YOU that will ever live. · Qualifications only matter once trust has been established. · Travel as much as you can and as often as you can. · Do all the good you can. · Have big, bold dreams for yourself and our world. · Cottey has prepared you for the world.


Hollins College: Commencement - May 22, 2016 
Speaker: Ann Compton, Hollins’ Class of 1969 - Retired ABC News White House correspondent
"My charge to you today: Get engaged. Bundle up all this energy and invest it in restoring trust in America. Your generation needs to stay engaged. If not in politics at the national or local level, then in the civic issues of our day. That makes society strong. Look up to the horizon. Abrupt challenges will happen to you. The path you set from this campus into the world is yours to choose, but at some point, you will be defined by how you react to the unexpected in life. Do not fear it. Preserve and protect your core aspirations but know you have the strength of character to handle adversity and that will define you. Don’t forget to look inward. Women have gotten lots of recent advice to “lean forward,” to be bold. Well, of course! But please not at the expense of those closest to you, your family and dearest friends." 


Mary Baldwin College: Commencement - May 22, 2015 
Speaker: Tracy "Lolita" Burks-Healy - CEO and Founder, Designs by Lolita, Inc. 

"I have always been a dreamer. I still am. Dreamers are rarely complacent because just the fact that you are dreaming means that, well, now isn’t good enough. I am enjoying this moment, right here, right now, but I’m dreaming always of a better tomorrow, that next better moment!  My brain is always on the next step, the next self-improvement, the next way to grow my business, the next new path. Dreaming gives you something to reach for, no matter how small or huge the dream seems to others. I have dreamed big and it has paid off."



Meredith College: Commencement - May 7, 2016
Speaker: Ellen Stofan - NASA Chief Scientist

“Don't stop honing your skills, because the more you know, the more you grow, and the stronger you become. You have the ability to be whatever you want to be, just as the many notable politicians, journalists, actresses, and others did who have matriculated from Meredith and walked this same campus. Now it’s your turn!”




Mills CollegeCommencement - May 14, 2016
Speaker: Sylvia Earle - founder of Mission Blue

“The ocean gives us life. Now it’s our job to return the favor…take care of the ocean that takes care of us. Our life support system is at risk. By this time last year, the oceans around the world had protection. Back in 2012 it was .01%. People began to wake up to the importance of the ocean and actions began to be taken. Last year, 1% of the ocean was protected. It’s the blue heart of the planet. How much of your heart do you want to see protected – all of it maybe? Think about what we can do to take care of the ocean not just the protected places now, right now, one year later, 2% of the ocean is protected. I mean we’ve doubled the amount in one year. Imagine if by this time next year, it’s 4% of the ocean and the year after maybe 8% and perhaps by 2020 we actually can get with the United Nations hoping for 10% of the ocean. This is the best time ever to think about the future.  Will there be whales, coral reefs, sharks, a healthy planet in 100 years? Truly what you do and what you fail to do will make all the difference in the world.”


Moore College of Art & Design: Commencement - May 15, 2016 
Speaker: Carol Lafayette - director of the Texas A&M Institute for Applied Creativity
“The world so needs you, your creativity, your will to think differently and the spaces you make for beauty, imagination, and creation. This is what I wish for all of you entering a new phase today: I wish for you the courage to experiment, to insist on creating the conditions where it’s impossible to NOT make a space for yourself to experiment. I hope you do truly amazing things.”




Mount Holyoke College: Commencement - May 15, 2016
Speaker: Joia Mukherjee - Chief Medical Officer of Partners in Health

“You commence today, leaving this place, this bubble, into a world that is positively waiting for your disruption. It is a world ripe for social change. Please, be brave. Walk together. Disrupt this place with me. Ours is a world where powerful and indeed hegemonic forces are threatening the welfare of humanity and of our climate. I believe that that leadership, women’s leadership, depends on disrupting hegemony. On truth-telling. On bravery. And on walking together in solidarity…There is no way to do this without you. We need psychologists, chemists, philosophers, musicians, poets, librarians, programmers, we need all of you. We need to disrupt and rebuild this world. Join me."


Mount Saint Mary’s University: Commencement - May 9, 2016
Speaker: Dr. Lucy Jones - Scientist emerita, U.S. Geological Survey

"What does it mean to be a scholar? It has become a trite cliché to say that a college education teaches you to think. A scholar is something more – someone who thinks, yes, but also someone who reasons, someone who uses their mind to probe the nature of reality. It is particularly obvious in scientists, but all scholars are trying to understand one of the many facets of the human reality. And I would argue that this is a skill that is more necessary to face the world today than it has ever been in the past. The skills that you have learned here are not just a meal ticket and are not something to leave behind now that you are done. Take your scholarship with you and keep using it. It is the skill that will allow you to participate in the social discourse of the coming world."


Saint Benedict: Commencement - May 7, 2016
Speaker: Alyssa Mastromonaco - COO, Vice Media & Former Deputy Chief of Staff For Operations at The White House

"First, Bennies – learn to define success very BROADLY. Success should be defined as getting up every day, doing your best, being financially independent and learning from every experience that is taking you where you are going.

Second, trust your gut.

Third, always be yourself. I have never been successful in an endeavor when I tried to be anyone but me. Don’t hide what you like, let your freak flag fly. What makes you different, what makes you, you. And that’s what makes you interesting.

Fourth, don’t forget friendship, kindness and humanity along the way. Be kind. Make the effort. Be a thoughtful human.

Fifth, take risks. When David Plouffe was my boss on the Obama campaign he would always say that if we weren’t on the high wire, we were losing. And, when I look back over the last few years – every real achievement in my life came from taking a risk. And, here’s the truth – the worst you can do is fail. Big deal. Failing is just a reason to try something new. Embrace it. Never stop failing. Never stop trying.”


Saint Mary's CollegeCommencement - May 22, 2016
Speaker: Tori Murden McClure

Perfection is over-rated. I have often bragged that the best thing about my faults is the joy they bring to others. Vaklav Havel once said, “Keep the company of and seek the company of those who are seeking after truth and run away from those who are sure they’ve found it. One of the greatest tests in life is to make the most of our gifts.  For those of us who believe the source of those gifts is some higher power, how we use our gifts is an act of faith. None of us is perfect.  Each person is a blend of dust and divinity.  Each is mortal and each heroic.



Simmons College: Commencement - May 20, 2016
Speaker: Michelle Alexander - Civil Rights Lawyer, Legal Scholar, Advocate for Racial Justice

Michelle Alexander asked Simmons graduates to consider the question of justice as they move forward in the world.  She charged them to dig deep and to consider how to live their lives with morality, honesty, righteousness, and a genuine respect for people, especially in these times of enormous paradox and profound contradictions.  She noted that we have a black President AND the world’s highest rate of incarceration where millions and millions of Americans who have made one mistake in their life have been labeled criminals for the rest of their life.The pursuit of justice falls short unless everyone gets involved.  Simmons grads will have a choice to lean into a culture of punitive justice or to lean out. They will have a choice about how to live and where to live and what to do.  Importantly, they can choose to re-imagine our system of justice . . .  so choose wisely, she told them.


Smith College: Commencement - May 15, 2016
Speaker: Megan Smith - United States Chief Technology Officer

Class of 2016, we want you to feel your creative confidence. You have deep talents, and you have extraordinary training. Our world needs your confidence to bring your innovative brilliance forward. There’s a lot of bias in the world—working against women, against people of color, against LGBTQ people, against those who are different in some way, against majority men who would show different sides of themselves. This bias causes talented people not to realize their full potential.

One way to have confidence is to know that whatever your background, people like you—including, especially, women and people of color, who have been so left out of the stories—have done amazing things throughout our history. Your extraordinary alum Gloria Steinem says, “Women have always been an equal part of the past, just not a part of history.” So I want you to have the confidence that we women, people of color, people everywhere have been part of all of our history….Be inspired by each other and build with each other….Have the confidence to take action, to break molds, to be your true selves. Your path will not be exactly what you expect, but I do predict it will be extraordinary!


Spelman College: Commencement - May 15, 2016
Speaker: Loretta E. Lynch - 83rd Attorney General of the United States

Spelman College Commencement SpeakerLoretta E. Lynch is the 83rd Attorney General of the United States. Ms. Lynch, America’s top law enforcement officer and the first African-American woman to be confirmed as attorney general of the United States, has forged an impressive legal career in private practice and as a federal prosecutor. She received her A.B., cum laude, from Harvard College in 1981, and her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1984. In 1990, after a period in private practice, Ms. Lynch joined the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, located in Brooklyn, New York—the city she considers her adopted home.

Excerpt from Loretta Lynch Commencement address:
"I see more than 480 strong and motivated young women who have already decided to use their choices to change the world. I see the agents of change who are already committed to making a difference in their communities. I see brilliant and driven leaders with the potential to leave a lasting mark on the world. I see Spelman graduates, who exude the poise, elegance and confidence that this institution strives to confer – the qualities that will mark you as a Spelman woman for the rest of your life. Most importantly, I see a sisterhood – one that will stand together every step of the way, no matter how difficult the circumstances or how daunting the task." ~ U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch


Sweet Briar College: Commencement - May 14, 2016
Speaker: Leah Solivan Busque - "Now We Are All Founders" - Founder and executive chairwoman, TaskRabbit

“In 1906, the College opened with 51 women: the pioneers of their day. They were the first founding class. 110 years later, we celebrate 80 women who have boldly chosen to take a stand to renew this institution. You are the second founding class, following in the footsteps of our original founder, Indiana Fletcher Williams. This class declares that education dedicated to women is relevant and important. As the founding class for the next century of women, you have earned — as we call it in Silicon Valley — your “Founder’s Badge.” Welcome to this very exclusive, very elite club. This is a club you can’t buy your way into. It’s not something you can slowly work your way up to. Being a founder is something that you experience, something that you own, something that you earn. You all have made sacrifices and taken risks, and you have the battle scars to prove it. You’ve plowed ahead, regardless of whether what’s around the corner is the highest of highs or the lowest of lows. It’s imperative that we all recognize and celebrate the giant leap of faith you took to ensure this founding class graduates today. Now, we are all founders. Never worry if you are good enough to do something — know you are, and always act like it. Embrace that confidence that Sweet Briar has instilled in you. I know it’s there. I’m living proof.” 


Wesleyan College: Commencement - May 14, 2016
Speaker: Geovette E. Washington - Wesleyan Class of 1989 - Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Legal Officer, University of Pittsburgh

Always be open to the opportunities that are presented to you, even and especially if they seem risky and might take you in a direction that is contrary to where you want to go.  Some of the most interesting jobs I’ve had were completely unanticipated. Never be afraid of new, unanticipated challenges. Think big and go for it… I’ve come back to this campus and been renewed and reinvigorated for the tasks before me, both as a law firm partner and during my time in the Obama administration. Remembering all the ways in which my life was enriched by the Wesleyan experience always lightens my spirits, resets my priorities, and gives me a sense of purpose. This is a special place inhabited by special people who will support you no matter what. For that reason, it’s important that you come back often and support the institution in any way you can so those coming after you have the opportunity to be a Wesleyanne.