On September 30, Wellesley College inaugurated its 14th president since the college was founded in 1875. The new president is Dr. Paula Johnson, a cardiologist with an MD and a Ph.D. in public health. She is a renowned scientist, researcher, physician, teacher, and expert on the subject of women’s health. I met Dr. Johnson when I went to Wellesley for Pasi Sahlberg’s performance/lecture. She is brilliant, unassuming, warm, and very impressive.
I was class of 1960 at Wellesley. Hillary was class of 1969. Obviously, we did not overlap.
But this is what you need to know about Wellesley. Its motto is “Non ministrari, sed ministrate,” which means “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” Not to be served, but to serve.
Another motto is “Incipit vita nova: here begins new life.”
That’s what Wellesley was for me, coming from the public schools of Houston, from parents who never went to college, from a decidedly non-academic, non-bookish family. The beginning of a new life.
I think that’s what Wellesley meant for Hillary Rodham, coming from public schools in Illinois, from a family of modest means. The beginning of a new life.
Wellesley is where we began a new life. It is the educational environment that shaped us.
To understand that environment, I invite you to watch some or all of the inauguration of Dr. Paula A.Johnson. The video has a table of contents, and you can skip the 30-minute processional and go right to the speakers. Watch the brief speech of Senator Elizabeth Warren. Then watch Drew Gilpin Faust, the president of Harvard University, who delivers a fascinating overview of women’s higher education and the snobbishness it encountered. Then watch Kathleen McCartney, president of Smith College, who speaks with great wit about the sibling rivalry between Smith and Wellesley but assures Dr. Johnson that all her sisters are with her. Listen to Dr. Virginia W. Pinn, a senior scientist at the National Institutes of Health and a medical pioneer, who knows Dr. Johnson’s role in her field.
And of course, please watch and listen to Dr. Johnson, who is simply fabulous. Dr. Johnson grew up in Brooklyn. She is a product of the New York City public schools, having completed her high school studies at Samuel J. Tilden High School, a comprehensive school where she met teachers who inspired and encouraged her. From Tilden, she went to Radcliffe and Harvard, where she began her brilliant career. [Tilden was declared a “failing school” by the Bloomberg administration in 2006 and converted to small schools.]
To understand the environment that shaped Hillary Rodham and me, watch this video. It made us strong, fearless, and prepared us to face the future armed with a strong liberal arts education and the belief that women can do anything. It taught us that we were fortunate to have such a wonderful education and were obliged to use it to make a difference for others.