Dianne M. Lynch, Ph.D., 24th President of Stephens College
October 30, 2009
Thank you. I stand before you this morning honored by your trust, grateful for your support, and determined to prove myself worthy of both.
There are so many people to thank for making this moment possible. And I'm going to ask you to join me in recognizing them.
I've always said that this celebration is not about ME (everybody keeps telling me it is, but you know, it really isn't. It's about US).
And right this minute, it's particularly about all of the people who have worked so hard, traveled so far, and committed so much to make today so special.
Let me begin with the folks who started this whole thing: those brilliant and insightful people on the Presidential Search Committee who decided to hear me out when I walked into that interview last spring and declared that I really am the ONLY PERSON for this job.
I want to thank the Board of Trustees for their leadership and commitment
College, and in particular, Board Chair George Ann Harding, who has already become a trusted adviser and a friend.
My sincere gratitude to the Inauguration Committee, chaired by Kathy Adams, for their imagination, energy and attention to more details than anybody should ever be expected to track.
I want to thank the talented paraders and performers and scholars who are together making this event such an expression of who we are.
I wanted it to be about our students and our community, and I wanted it to be fun.
We have met those goals in ways more splendid and fabulous than I could ever have hoped for.
I am so grateful to Rosemary Redmond, who has become for me a symbol of “true north”—a woman who is persistently and purposefully pointed in the right direction.
And I want to thank our wonderful faculty, colleagues whose wisdom, judgment and good faith I have already come to trust and depend upon.
I am grateful as well to our staff, who makes this operation run like a finely tuned machine—not just today—but every day.
And particular thanks to Tiffany and Ann, the women who manage our office and in many ways, my life.
And my Senior Staff: who have watched up close as I have settled in, gotten my feet under me, and found my way—I am grateful for their patience.
I want to thank our students: our wonderful, amazing, extraordinary, fabulous students: You are why I am here, and it is my pledge to you that I will spend every waking hour of every single day dedicated to making your Stephens experience the best it can be.
I am grateful to my colleagues from around the region and the country who have made the effort and traveled the distance to be here on this very special occasion: In particular, Dr. Wendy Libby, whose leadership helped launch a true Renaissance at Stephens College;
My close friends:
Janice Levy, one of the shining stars of lthaca College;
Alberto lbarguen, who has taught me more than I can say about original thinking, commitment to ideas, and personal loyalty,
And Susan West Engelkemeyer, class of 1974, who led me to Stephens College without even knowing she was doing it.
And finally my family:
My sons, Drew and Nick, and my daughters, Annie and Amelia, who are living proof that you can have it all as long as you have children who are patient, loving, supportive, and confident of their place in your heart.
My sisters, Kathy, Barb and Debbie, who have traveled from California and Michigan to join their little sister in one of her proudest moments,
And my parents—my mother, who taught me by example that a woman with
IS a force to be reckoned with, and my father, who passed away a few weeks ago, and for whom today would have been proof positive that I was right yet again:
When I used to say “Well-behaved women almost never make history,” he would respond, “But nobody ever said you were well-behaved.” This historic moment is for you, dad.
Finally, I want to thank my wonderful and supportive husband, Philip Coleman, who didn't realize when he married me that he would someday find himself in the interesting but unexpected role of First Gentleman of Stephens College.
Now, I have to tell you a story about me, and about the inauguration, and about that "special something" that Jaimie and Jordan were talking about—that subtle but essential difference that has made me a Stephens woman.
One of the things that you don't know about me is that while I am the hardest working person you will ever meet—just ask my family—and while I have lots of strengths and talents—just ask ME—there are some things I am not.
I am not a singer. Especially around here, where the competition is so huge.
And I am not a dancer. But we'll get to that in a minute.
And I am not lucky. I don't mean fortunate in living in the freest nation in the world and having more opportunity than 90 percent of the rest of humanity, and growing up educated and privileged. I don't mean that kind of lucky.
I mean LUCKY. Lucky as in trying to find a parking space and being there when the guy backs up and pulls out, or even getting in the right line at the airport or the grocery store. If there are two lines to choose, I ALWAYS get in the wrong one. So there I was on Wednesday night, at the Red Sock Hop.
I told you I can't dance, and now, 175 of our students know that firsthand. They were rocking out, and singing all the words, and wearing those fabulous red socks, and I STILL haven't figured out how to keep up with the line during the electric slide.
And there were door prizes, a whole bunch of them. You have to remember, I never win ANYTHING. And it was the last prize of the night.
She was calling out the numbers: 1 - 6 -
I turned around to my husband and said NO WAY. I NEVER WIN ANYTHING.
And then she said it: 3.
THAT'S ME! I hollered. It's me!
I went running up to the front of the gym, to get my prize:
It was a pair of Stephens shorts, Size 0.... (about this big). I promptly gave them to Annie, my daughter.
But standing there, looking out at that whole gym full of amazing, fabulous, brilliant Stephens women, I knew for a fact, in my heart of hearts, that my luck had changed.
That's one of the ways that I am now a Stephens woman.
We are here today to participate in one of the most hopeful and optimistic of all of the academy's rituals, the investiture of a new president is a passing of the torch, a celebration of tradition, and a confirmation that we are poised to write the next chapter of this amazing institution's life story—and that we will compose that narrative together.
Dr. Drew Faust, new president at Harvard, suggested that inaugural addresses are "by definition, pronouncements by individuals who don't yet know what they are talking about."
I prefer to think of them as the observations of idealists who still choose to believe that anything is possible.
Today, I ask you to join me in that exuberant sense of potential and promise, to concentrate not on what we cannot do but on what we will do, and on what we have already accomplished.
If there is anything that we know with certainty about Stephens College, it is that she has withstood the test of time.
She has endured great wars, wrenching crisis, and political reformation—from the Civil War to 9/11, from the assassination of Lincoln to the election of Barack Obama—and she has teetered and recovered, expanded and retracted, always re-emerging in the light of yet another day—often under the leadership of a new and optimistic president—to take up the charge and meet the challenge of preparing Stephens women for the lives that have awaited them.
I think today of Lucy Ann Wales, the College's first teacher, a young and by all accounts spunky woman who, at the age of 22, made her way—alone—from her home in Weymouth, Massachusetts, to what was in 1830 the tiny frontier town of Columbia, Missouri.
Lucy came originally to teach the children of some of Columbia's most privileged residents, but in 1833 she was hired to be the first headmistress of the Columbia Female Academy.
A Stephens woman before there WERE Stephens women, Lucy Ann Wales was educated, independent, courageous and determined to do what needed to be done—a role model for her successors if ever there was one.
During the intervening years between the moment Lucy Ann Wales first stood before her charges in the classroom of the Columbia Female Academy and this moment, today, as I stand before you—176 years and one month later—Stephens College has evolved into an institution unlike any other in higher education.
Stephens' birth story comes out of a Baptist tradition of values-driven education.
Her life story is one of innovation, intellectual rigor, Phoenix-like tenacity and an unwavering commitment to the intellectual, creative, spiritual, and personal power of women.
It is a legacy forged across generations of grandmothers, mothers and daughters, and shaped by the pressures and practices of particular times and particular challenges.
And it has been made modern, relevant and realized through the commitments of those who have stood at this podium before me, and by the faculty, staff, students and community those individuals inspired and led.
There have been 23 of those leaders—many of whom stuck around for only a year or two, in case you're doing the math—but one of them, one single leader among them, warrants our attention here today.
His name was James Madison Wood.
I started out to write this speech about the amazing Stephens women who have brought us to where we are today.
I had every intention of telling you that the heart and soul of this wonderful institution resulted from the vision and leadership of a Stephens woman, but the fact is, I've become convinced that we really do have James Wood to thank.
I'm a storyteller and a journalist. That means I love a dramatic turn of phrase, but only when it sticks to the facts.
And the facts are, the person most responsible for the institution that Stephens College has become, the visionary pragmatist who established its lasting values—from our innovative spirit to the unwavering centrality of students in everything we do—was a man, through and through.
They called him Daddy Wood.
(And no, you may not call me Mommy Lynch. Don't even think about it.)
James Wood believed—as I do—that an institution of higher education must be innovative, original and dynamic in its thinking; grounded in progressive pragmatism — the notion that true learning is realized through practice, and that it must both enlighten the student and improve the human condition; and student centered. Always, always, always student centered.
Wood arrived on campus in 1912 just in time to save it from financial crisis:
"The major issue facing the college was that of paying its indebtedness and preventing the foreclosure of its mortgages," reports the official Stephens history.
There were 52 students on campus that fall, and for the first two weeks of the semester, Wood carried their tuition around in his wallet: He was afraid to deposit it in case the college closed and the girls lost their money.
He needn't have worried: by January, Wood had solicited enough donations to pay off the college's debt (now that's what I call a fundraiser!) and by 1914, he had balanced the College's budget.
By 1915, there were 526 students on campus - and, according to our history, "The college certainly lacked buildings and equipment, but it seemed to have a sense of direction and a mission to accomplish...”
History, as they say, repeats itself...
Wood was a strong and effective leader—and he made it clear, right from the start, that he was interested first and foremost in students.
During a meeting of the Board of Curators in 1912, shortly after his arrival, every student on campus—all 52 of them—burst into the meeting room to collect their mail.
Wood was the president, but he was also the post office.
After they had finally departed, the board chair turned to Wood and asked, was that entirely necessary?
"Why yes, gentlemen," Wood responded.
"While I am president of this college, it is not the board, not the buildings, not even the faculty, but the students who come first."
I love this guy.
He was also an educator who listened—and who tried to understand the world from a student's point of view:
When the Stephens girls in 1912 decided they just plain weren't going to wear those stupid old black robes every time they went downtown, they got together, dumped them in a great big pile, and set it on fire.
When the Dean of Students went looking for Wood, she found him watching the blaze from afar, a smile on his face.
"I don't blame them," he said," I wouldn't wear them, either."
Within days, the dress code had shifted to a black dress suit and a black hat—not exactly styling, but a huge improvement over those choir robes.
A year later, after another group of Stephens women protested college policy by marching off campus and refusing to return to class, Wood walked down to the park, spent the afternoon with the rabble-rousers and convinced them that, from that point forward, HE would be the one to decide when to call off classes.
He instituted something called "Stop Day"—a mental health day when everybody would get to take a break and exhale.
(I LOVE this idea—one of the Senior Staff said she knew I would, it sounds just like me. I consider that the highest compliment ever.)
James Wood believed in educating the whole woman—from intellect to character. But most important to our culture, he was somebody who went out into the world and found his own answers to the College's questions.
In 1921, he asked—decades ahead of his time—the critical outcomes questions: Who do we want our graduates to be?
Instead of adopting the status quo or looking to his neighbors for answers, the faculty created a list of 20,000 words describing character traits, narrowed it to 1,500, and synthesized those into ten: The Ten Ideals were born.
He believed deeply in women's education—but what did they need to know? Wood launched a massive national study to find out.
The College asked 329 women from 37 states to keep diaries of their activities for six months. They created a data set of 7,500 items, from which the faculty developed seven key areas of study. That became Stephens’ core curriculum.
Wood was a risk-taker. Like my friend Alberto Ibarguen, he believed that he wasn't being innovative enough if all of the College's experiments succeeded.
In 1925, Stephens established a radio station and a year later, a riding academy.
In 1927, Stephens launched a program that combined the last two years of high school with the first two years of college. Today, we call it Early College High School, and it's viewed as revolutionary. In 1927, it was REALLY ahead of its time and the school system couldn't adjust. It failed.
In 1934, the College launched a degree in radio communications, and eight years later, in 1942, it bought airplanes so it could teach young women how to fly.
We established a television program in 1950—one of the first in the country—and in 1955, began transmitting classes over closed-circuit television and conference calls, so faculty could bring national leaders into their Missouri classrooms.
In 1960, Stephens created the first House Plan, a living/learning honors
community—I know of institutions STILL trying to figure out how to do
that—and in 1970, our University Without Walls was one of the first programs
in the country to provide adult
students the opportunity to return to school on their own terms.
Today, Stephens continues its tradition of innovation: have you seen this week's Newsweek, all about the radical idea of a three-year degree program? Our year-round three-year BFAs in theater and dance are decades old.
Have you seen the Chronicle stories this month about "plus one" programs that allow students to earn undergraduate and master's degrees in five years? Yes, it's true, we do that, too.
As we engage this year in our strategic planning process, as we envision the Stephens of 2015, we will continue to break old boundaries, try new models, ignore yesterday's rules.
We will build bonfires out of the trappings of our past when those trappings no longer serve our future, and we will remember Daddy Wood's words of wisdom watching those trappings go up in smoke:
“I don't blame them. I wouldn't wear them, either.”
We will build our future not on words but on deeds, not on dreams but on the execution of visions clearly stated and effectively implemented.
We will continue our long tradition of innovation:
Through the development of new programs and partnerships; through a recognition
of women as lifelong learners; through a recommitment to the excellence
of our faculty;
and by anticipating and then responding to the changing needs and world views of the digital natives who are our students.
We will reaffirm our core commitment to those students, to our shared mission of preparing them to be the Stephens women of the next generation—and the generations after that.
Today, we have enjoyed my first Stop Day—a time for us to come together, to celebrate, to be proud of our history, our present and our future.
Consider it the first definitive act of your new president:
A promise that our mission and our vision take us back to our future—
A future that draws upon our rich tradition of innovation, intellectual rigor and realized learning, and the centrality of our students to everything we do.
James Wood would have smiled to hear me say that today. I'm sure of it. And so, too, would Lucy Ann Wales, who followed her ambitions and her love of learning from the relative calm of New England to the wilds of the Midwest, and found her way home in Columbia, Missouri, on the campus of Stephens College.
She turned out to be one lucky woman. Just like your new president.