I was reading through a collection of writing from my awesome alma mater, Mount Holyoke College, and I came across this gem by Lynn Morgan.
One of my beefs with graduation speeches and other celebratory speeches in general is that they tend to be way too specific. At the end of the day, do I really care what that one person in your class said? Will it make a difference what you ate that made you realize that MHC was the place for you? No. Sorry, but no. I want to know about how it felt to be a student – not you, not this specific student – at a moment when you heard that Hilary wasn’t going to be the Democratic nominee. How your classmates – not just your friends – rallied around a cause as a symbol of a movement, not just an insider’s game. When I submitted my speech for graduation, my goal was to hit this general sentiment – a tone that touches you, but brings as many people into the circle as possible. That includes rather than limits the range of people who say “I know exactly what you’re talking about.” Graduation gifts are for inside jokes. Graduation and baccalaureate speeches – not so much.
That’s exactly why this speech blew me away with its universality. I graduated almost five years ago, and it still made me pause and say “Hey, that’s me. That’s us.” What do you think, fellow MoHos and feminist friends everywhere? Do you see a bit of you – or us – in this?
You can read the whole speech here – my favorite bit is below.
“If we give a MoHo a cookie, she’s going to ask for a glass of milk.” As we head toward the refrigerator, she’ll ask us whether we realize that humans are the only animals that routinely drink the milk of another species. She’ll wonder aloud whether the famous Mount Holyoke tradition of “milk and cookies” was predicated on the ethnocentric assumption that everyone should have the biological capacity to digest milk. She’ll point out that most of the world’s population stops producing lactase, the milk-digesting enzyme, after weaning, and she’ll explain that these days “M & Cs” might just as easily refer to carrots and hummus or chips and salsa. She’ll note that some people prefer to abstain from eating animal products in the interests of environmental sustainability. She’ll ask whether we’ve noticed that this year’s graduating class is made up of MoHos from 44 different countries and that many of them didn’t grow up drinking milk or eating cookies! Then she’ll ask, politely, whether we have any nondairy beverage options available.
“When we give her a tall glass of ice-cold soy milk, she’ll want to look in a mirror to make sure she doesn’t have a soy-milk moustache. When she looks into the mirror, she might notice that her hair needs a trim. So she’ll probably ask for a pair of scissors.” When she’s finished giving herself a trim, we might notice that she’s shaved only the right side of her head. She’ll explain that the asymmetrical hairstyle was inspired by Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity. Gender is not a stable biological category, she’ll explain, contrary to what she believed before she took Gender Studies 101. She will ask what we think about gender dimorphism, and she’ll suggest that gender might be the effect of treating it as a stable category. This is heavy stuff, and three hours later we’re still deep in conversation about the intersecting oppressions of race, class, gender, religion, and sexual orientation. She reminds us that this historic class started college the year that Obama was elected, and graduates in the very month that the President of the United States announced his support for marriage equality. She’ll conclude, politely but pointedly, that her haircut is a statement calculated to destabilize the gender binary.
“When the conversation is over, she’ll probably want to take a rest.” She’ll wander into Abbey Chapel. As the darkness closes around her, she’ll realize that she is surrounded by other MoHos – some excited and fidgeting, others sitting in quiet contemplation. Thinking back over what she has learned, she realizes that they have cultivated similar traits in one another: boundless curiosity, a passion for justice, respect for diverse ways of knowing, and a penchant for raising their voices – in affirmation, in protest, and in song. She loves knowing so much about biological variation and gender theory, of course, but more than anything else she appreciates her deep thirst for knowledge.
And, knowing a metaphor when she sees one, she realizes that she is thirsty, so she’ll ask for a glass of milk. And chances are if she asks for a glass of milk, she’s going to want a cookie to go with it.”
… I could really go for a cookie right about now.