Scripps College Presidential Inauguration Installation Ceremony Keynote Remarks April 29, 2017

Thank you, trustees, past presidents, speakers, and family for your welcoming remarks and your support for Scripps College; audience members for being a part of this memorable celebration; students, faculty, and guests for participating in the Academic Showcase, President’s Forum, and Tree Planting; alumnae for enthusiastic support of one another and the College during Reunion Weekend events and for your willingness to share your annual gathering with inauguration celebration activities. I am very happy that our 50th reunion attendees were willing to share that particularly important reunion with me; Inauguration Steering Committee members for their leadership in envisioning this event; and staff who made this happen from ensuring the campus was ready for this event and for choreographing every minute of the past three days!

It is particularly special to me for Maia, Maggie, and my mom all to have taken the stage, not only because they are three women who have touched and shaped my life, but also because they represent three different generations of women whose accomplishments, courage and ingenuity reflect their times.

Each also provides examples of the ways in which education transforms women’s lives, empowers them, and allows them to support and promote other women.

Maia’s immigrant parents instilled in her a connection and respect for her roots, even though they were the only Chinese family in their Iowa town and they promoted an abiding respect for scholarship and ideas. These values have propelled and inspired Maia as she has navigated her own path.

Maggie has spent her whole life being simultaneously criticized and rewarded for her “sharp elbows.” She has both gotten her way and paid a price. She has occupied an overwhelmingly male world and been “the first woman who ….” on too many fronts to count.

My mom is my mom—at the core a constant source of love and support for my sisters and me and now her grandchildren. Also, so often a first in her professional path, she is someone whose love of philosophy and the humanities kept her focused on what was important and on what she really values.

All three of them, in their own ways brought me here to Scripps. It is the women in my life like them who make me so confident both of how much women have to contribute and how the world has not yet seen all we can offer, how education is key to the advancement of women, how women’s support of one another is necessary for our success, and in the way that the love of ideas, and the strength of argument, enriches both the self and the world.

This weekend has provided many occasions to reflect on not only my own journey to Scripps, but also on Scripps’ journey through the past 90 years, on the opportunities and challenges that are shaping our present experiences, and the future that is yet to be written.

Last year at this time, I was devouring every source of information I could find about Scripps as I considered whether to join this community. In the course of my research, I discovered a sense of kinship with Ellen Browning Scripps, the publisher, journalist, suffragist, and businesswoman who founded Scripps College 90 years ago

In her biography about Ms. Scripps, Deborah Day described her as follows: “She believed in education, she was an advocate of women’s suffrage and women’s’ clubs, biology interested her, she abhorred discrimination and privilege, she favored temperance and world peace.”

Ms. Scripps invested in causes, institutions, and people that would create enduring benefit across generations, and she characterized her founding of Scripps College as her most important work in a rich lifetime of creating opportunities to broaden human knowledge.

In an era where women were challenging traditional gender roles and pushing for their rights to obtain an education, vote, and work outside of the home, Scripps College was founded on the idea that women deserve, need, and have a right to the highest quality educational opportunities.

In the early years, that spirit of educational reform and personal transformation was reflected in every aspect of the institution: The curriculum was interdisciplinary—a departure from most traditional men’s and women’s colleges at that time. Half of the board of trustees were professional women and they fought for at least half of the faculty to be women. The campus environment was meant to integrate the natural landscape with courtyards and social spaces designed to facilitate relationship and collaboration. Ellen Browning Scripps also knew that the roles and opportunities available to women had changed radically in her lifetime, and that they would continue to change. She believed that each woman should be able to create her own definition of womanhood, and that women should be able to design lives that reflected their individual aspirations, passions, and experiences, without discrimination or judgment.

We have ample evidence that Ms. Scripps’ vision for women has been achieved by countless Scripps alumnae over the span of the past nine decades, such as:

  • Carlotta Welles, Class of 1939, who spent much of her career as an occupational therapist, helping individuals with physical, emotional, and cognitive disorders to find their independence while establishing her own financial independence and encouraging other Scripps women to do the same.
  • Norma Blair Gilmore, Class of 1947 and our alumnae marshal, is here celebrating her 70th reunion from Hamilton, Montana. After Scripps Norma completed her PhD in education and had a distinguished career in education consulting and administration. During her career, she pioneered a set of assessment and therapy tools for use with children with visual impairments and delayed readers and she continues to be published in her field.
  • Susan Finley, Class of ’58; NASA’s longest-serving female employee whose pioneering work as a space-engineering specialist helped land a rover on Mars; and
  • Dwandalyn R. Reece, Class of ’85, curator of music and performing arts at the Smithsonian’s newest museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  • These are just a few of the stories that show how the seeds Ellen Browning Scripps planted 90 years ago have consistently produced generations of educational excellence, academic and professional achievement, and societal impact at Scripps and throughout the world.

In many ways, the Scripps of the PRESENT faces an era of experimentation and innovation similar to that which preceded its founding in the 1920s. Shifting economic, political, and social currents have led to a period of self-reflection and critical examination of the traditions, mores, and standards that have governed our individual and institutional behavior.

Yet, Scripps’ mission remains as relevant today as it was 90 years ago: “to educate women to develop their intellects and talents through active participation in a community of scholars so that as graduates they may contribute to society through public and private lives of leadership, service, integrity, and creativity.”

In 2017, we find ourselves working harder than ever to address the challenges that daily confront us as members of a community devoted to women’s education, equity, and advancement.

Worldwide, disparities between women and men in economic opportunities, educational attainment, health, and political empowerment are still significant. Society is questioning the value of higher education generally, and liberal arts degrees in particular have been disparaged by those favoring vocational training and pre-professional programs as better investments.

Some raise questions about whether colleges produce an environment where all can learn and develop or whether, enmeshed in their histories, they are more congruent and comfortable for some students than others and whether this leaves space for all voices and experiences. Others raise questions about the extent to which students at liberal arts colleges are exposed to a wide enough set of views, or whether the acceptable range of thinking is too narrow.

If any institution is capable of proving the value of the liberal arts and reshaping the environment for public debate, I believe it is Scripps College, where we believe in the power of community, where we value ideas, but not at the expense of the people these ideas impact, and where we seek understanding in an effort to know people, to care for them, and to produce a better world.

Just as when Scripps was founded, we are developing in our students the ability to think clearly and independently, and to live confident, courageous, and hopeful lives. Students like:

  • Christine Gao ’17, an Economics and Politics dual major minoring in Hispanic Studies, who received a Fulbright award to teach English in Malaysia.
  • Meril Tomy ’17, a molecular biology major on a pre-medical track who received a Davis Projects for Peace grant to promote awareness about mental health, improve access to information and resources, and aims to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness in her hometown of Orange, California. Noor Hamdy ’18, a politics and Middle East and North Africa studies major who founded the 5C club Refugee Advocacy Network to provide concrete ways for students to make a difference in the lives of refugees in our region.
  • Laura Woods ‘18, a history major whose research on new acquisitions by the Scripps Collectors Circle informed a recent exhibition at Scripps’ Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery.

While we continue to see Scripps’ impact reflected in the accomplishments of our students, the world looks dramatically different than it did 90 years ago, and the College has wisely embraced change to ensure its ability to deliver an exceptional educational experience in a rapidly-evolving world.

Some innovations over the past 90 years include: the addition of the W.M. Keck Science Department; the transition to the Elizabeth Hubert Malott Commons as the central dining facility for the campus; the establishment of The Laspa Center for Leadership; and the addition of new majors like Art Conservation, Environmental Analysis, and Media Studies all reflect Scripps’ willingness and capacity to evolve to meet the needs of contemporary college students.

Right now, Scripps, like other institutions in Claremont and throughout the nation, is faced with another opportunity for change. This weekend, many of you have witnessed firsthand our students’ passion for social justice reflected in visible and vocal activism for changes on campus. These students are using their voices to advocate for changes that will make the Scripps educational experience even more fulfilling, enlightening, and life-changing for young women from all backgrounds. In many ways, their underlying goals are my goals. I, and the other administrative leaders at Scripps, have been working, and will continue to work, to provide more resources and support to help all students thrive academically and personally during their time here. We all want that.

Working with our students, faculty, and staff to determine exactly how to achieve those goals can sometimes be uncomfortable, but discomfort is a necessary part of change.

As we think about the opportunities and challenges that exist for today’s Scripps graduates, and the skills and attributes they will need to successfully navigate the FUTURE, we recognize that the ways in which we achieve our mission have to change because the context in which we operate has changed. To Ms. Scripps, education implied growth, and growth meant change and progress, not security and status quo.

Scripps is positioned to meet the greatest challenges of our time by cultivating the next generation of scholars, and leaders who will translate a rigorous liberal arts education into individual influence and global impact. This may seem like a grand vision for a college with fewer than 1,000 students, 122 faculty, on 32 acres, 35 miles outside of Los Angeles. But I believe we can accomplish it because we are a community of individuals who are eager to make a difference, and who aren’t limited by the status quo.

As we embark on the next chapter of Scripps College’s legacy, the final decade of its first century, we are confronted with the question of how to live up to Ms. Scripps’ challenge in today’s world. Answering that question will be an ongoing and evolving process, but also must start with some aspirations, and ideals.

Scripps College remains committed to offering the best educational experience available to our students. There are many small liberal arts colleges, we know them well, and we often compare ourselves to them. We share with many institutions the goal of academic excellence.  And yet, those of us here know that Scripps has a distinctive identity, one that generates pride amongst our faculty, our staff, our students and our alumnae.

I’ve spoken to countless alumnae who celebrate the lifelong friendships and network of personal and professional support that has sustained and uplifted them for decades following graduation. Students savor the educational experience that offers intense intellectual rigor in a collaborative rather than competitive environment. Faculty fiercely protect Scripps’ commitment to the Humanities and broad-based liberal arts while understanding the affirming power of faculty-student interaction and mentorship. Staff cherish the close-knit community and the ability to learn alongside generations of students.

For many of us, once we have been touched by Scripps, we cannot forget it, nor do we want to. It forges an immediate and deep connection with others who know the special experience, who know that we who have been here have a treasure that we will keep with us our whole lives. That Scripps pride is a gift to the institution and we will cultivate and nurture it, not only in those who already know us, but in those who are our future family, friends, and fans.  Our strengths will beget more strength. We need to embrace and advance our best features, remind each other of them, sing them out to the world.

In embracing the best of Scripps, we do not seek to avoid improvement. To the contrary, if we perseverate on the negative we will be paralyzed by it, but by understanding what we do well, we can determine how to be even better, and we will motivate ourselves and support each other in getting there.

One of the most important ways we will instill and nurture this pride is by not only attracting extraordinary students from many backgrounds, but by creating a culture of belonging for every Scripps student. In the next decade, we will continue to broaden our definition of a Scripps student to embrace ever-expanding notions of the roles, experiences, and opportunities available to them. Our image will not be of THE Scripps student but will be of the MANY Scripps students, each of whom has their own identity, their own path to Scripps, their own course to academic and personal development, and their own aspirations. We will cherish and replenish that richness by attracting and retaining a student body that reflects a broad range of experiences, perspectives, and voices.

There have been times that the banner of advancing women has been carried in a manner that resulted in the advancement of SOME women and not others. Women of color, immigrants, LGBTQ, and lower-income women have often found their interests and needs obscured by the broad priorities of feminist movements and women’s institutions. That cannot be our approach. We have been nourished by the wide range of individual backgrounds, personalities, goals, and ideas of our students, and our notion of Scripps must enlarge so that we aim to strengthen each and every unique perspective and identity; to amplify each voice; to imbue everyone who comes here with courage, confidence and hope.

Rather than thinking about our students’ developments and achievement in individual buckets, which we try to fill one by one for the students to consume one by one, we will instead provide an ecosystem in which students’ academic pursuits intermingle seamlessly with their residential life, career services, off-campus study, and community service experiences within and beyond the boundaries of Scripps’ campus. It is only through this intermingling that our students can best use their college experience to develop as whole people who will shape the future for generations to come.

Most of us in this room know well the inscription beside Honnold Gate that begins, “The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently…” At Scripps’ core, will always be our goal to engage students in deep and critical thinking, and our vision in the coming decade will encompass innovative strategies to take advantage of 21st century tools while preserving what is best about the small liberal arts and humanities educational model.

Ellen Browning Scripps spent some large part of her career as a journalist and writer—a perfect example of one of the many career paths that have been fundamentally transformed by technology.  Our students who follow in her footsteps will perform this role very differently than she did in order to achieve the same goal of communicating news and information: using digital rather than print channels, writing and editing stories within minutes rather than days or weeks, and engaging in real-time with supporters and critics via social media platforms.

At Scripps, we must provide an academic environment that makes good use of the way in which knowledge has changed and the way in which wisdom is developed. This decade must be marked by ever-evolving pedagogy. This does not mean that we will replace the intimate seminars so beloved by our students with knowledge dispersed through computer screens. We know the deepest learning occurs in conversation. We will seek ways in which to use new technologies and new information so that we can take our most powerful tool, face to face discussion and do it even more and to even better effect.  Similarly, we know how our students’ development is heightened by their ability to work on independent research while they are here. We will similarly use the latest in technology and innovation to deepen and widen our students research experiences.

Our pedagogical innovations will be many, and this will be a decade of experimentation as it was during Scripps origin, but our changes will continue to highlight the many ways in which students and faculty alike learn from one another through talking with one another, through arguments, through questions, through inquiry and through listening. By experimenting, we will continue to cultivate the intellectual dexterity of our students.
Our ability to situate the humanities in a current context, our expertise in women’s issues, and our access to the rich social and cultural resources of Los Angeles provides ideal conditions for Scripps to export its rigorous educational experience to a broader community, have an impact on our surrounding region, and influence national conversation.

The Scripps campus is both a tranquil oasis and also a gateway and connector to all that surrounds us.  There have been times in our history when we have focused our energies on what lies within the walls that surround so many sides of our campus.  This next decade is a time to not just gaze over the fence but to open wide the doors that allow us to access the world outside and invite the world to us.

In the next decade, we will engage the environment around us like never before.  There will be more collaboration with the consortium, more involvement in LA County, more integration of the classroom education with the problems that face the world, more partnership with organizations who share our vision of a better world in which all women achieve their goals, and more engagement with the world as a whole so that we can amplify Scripps’ impact and fulfill our aspiration to truly influence the standing of women in society at large.

I have laid out some principles that will serve as a guide during my tenure as president as I take on the daunting task of steering this extraordinary institution toward its rapidly-approaching centennial. There is no one approach that will solve all of our challenges, and similarly, no goal will be achieved by just one mechanism. Over the coming years, we will instead be focused and aligned around our ideals and seek to fulfill them in all that we do.

Students, faculty, staff, alumnae, parents, trustees, friends are the heart of this institution. This makes us collectively responsible for making this institution all that it can be and for achieving its great potential. Our success will depend on our ability to seek to understand more than to be understood; to learn rather than judge; to forgo self-righteousness in favor of empathy.

We must be vigilant, aware, have high standards, and use our individual and collective power to push Scripps to its centennial. As we do so, I urge us not to shy away from difficult conversations, and to remember that there is more that unifies us than divides us. We share a desire to create an educational experience that produces and attracts tomorrow’s leaders, educators, and advocates. Women who are living courageously, astounding history, disrupting their fields, and fearlessly plunging into life’s greatest challenges. Women who are living Ellen Browning Scripps’ dream—living with confidence, courage, and hope.

Their stories, and the stories of those who will follow in their footsteps will motivate us and generate for us paths into the future so that in 10 years, when Scripps College turns 100 you will see a Scripps that learns from the past, questions the present, and invents the future.