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President Bowman's Commencement Address

Full text of speech given at graduation ceremonies on May 14, 2006

5/14/2006 11:56:18 AM


Kathleen Bowman

The following address was delivered by President Kathleen G. Bowman as the featured speaker during the 2006 Commencement Exercises at Randolph-Macon Woman's College.

When I was asked to be Commencement speaker this year, I was both honored and humbled. My humility increased a hundredfold when I learned that Oprah had been your first choice!

Yet there is something fitting about my addressing the Class of 2006, since we are, after all, graduating together. The difference is that it’s taken you only four years, while it has taken me 12.

Cradled here in this lush green Dell for the last time, we are surely reflecting on all that this remarkable College has meant to us and no doubt recalling how it was that we came here in the first place.

For you, it may have been a parent urging you to stop and look at the campus, despite your resistance to applying to women’s colleges. Perhaps it was a publication that revealed a glimpse of the special spirit of this place. Perhaps it was a teacher who knew of its excellent academic reputation.

The story of how I came to R-MWC began many years ago, in 1976–long before you were born. Jimmy Carter was president, and the nation was celebrating its bicentennial. I was in the midst of completing my doctoral dissertation and quite miserable. Secretly, I was entertaining the idea of not finishing. Graduate school had been an arduous ordeal in an all-male department, rampant with the behaviors that we now call sexual discrimination, but which then were standard operating procedure. With the birth of each of my three children, my august advisers could not conceal their profound disappointment that I was not, after all, going to be the youngest Ph.D. they had ever produced. My papers were being written at the kitchen table while my children napped. When I would arrive at my office with a child in a stroller, I it was clear that I had violated an unspoken rule. The kudos for my academic work often revealed an interesting bias. I am certain that the chairman of the department considered it the finest compliment when he said to me, "Your analyses are very powerful–you think like a man."

I decided to take a break from my dissertation. I developed a proposal to a publisher to write a series of books on contemporary women for middle school students. In those days, there was virtually nothing a child could read that portrayed the talents of women who were succeeding in the world. If you were lucky, you could probably find something about Susan B. Anthony, and perhaps a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, but there were no books that showed the full range of contemporary women’s talents. This seemed very important to me, since my own daughter was then nine years old.

My proposal was funded. The books were to be six volumes in all; each would focus on a particular area of women’s achievement: politics, media, medicine, social science, art, and dance. Since each volume was to include seven profiles, which needed to be balanced in terms of race, ethnicity, geography, and age, I found myself researching literally hundreds of women, from whom I ultimately selected the 42 to be interviewed and included in the books.

What did I learn from this experience?

First, I was astonished at the sheer abundance of remarkable women doing important things in the world. I was even more astonished that so few of them were visible in American public life. While some may have been written about in local or regional newspapers, or were known in scholarly communities, they were not the subject of national media coverage or of books and articles that were accessible to the general public. It was clear that my daughter’s generation might be denied the legacy of accomplishments of these women, just as I had been denied the legacy of my own mother’s generation.

Secondly, without my being aware of it, I was being empowered.

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations