Reunion Convocation Keynote: Grateful for Douglass Experience, Says Give Back and Remain Engaged

The following keynote address was given by Linda P. Brady ’69, Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, (pictured) to alumnae and guests gathered at Douglass Reunion Weekend Convocation in Voorhees Chapel on May 31, 2014.

Thank you so much for inviting me to join you today. It has been 45 years since I graduated from Douglass College. Many of you are more recent graduates, and some of you graduated years before my class. But we all share memories of Douglass—this very special place where we learned, grew, made lasting friendships, and prepared ourselves for the many and varied journeys we have embarked upon over the years.

Reunion is a special time on a college campus. It is an opportunity to reflect on our time here, to share stories and life experiences. It also is an opportunity to learn about the Douglass of today. Thank you, Dean Litt, for the wonderful update on the state of the college. While much has changed since our time at Douglass, the core values of liberal education and a commitment to preparing women for lives of personal success and meaning remain constant. The College is in good hands.

All of us have individual memories of our time at Douglass. For me some of those memories include: living in Corwin (for all four years), and learning how to deal with the radiators during the winter (with open windows!); fencing class in the temporary gym; men in the house on Sunday afternoons (but with room doors open the width of a book!); waitressing in Cooper (including hanging a skirt in my locker to wear over rolled up jeans for dinner); traditions such as Sacred Path and the Yule Log Ceremony; crossing ravine bridge in the fall for classes in Hickman Hall, and (of course) curfew. I know you have similar memories.

Like many of you, I am a first generation college student. I will never forget that day in fall 1965 when my parents dropped me off at Corwin R. They had never set foot on a college campus—and neither had I. My father emigrated from Scotland in 1928. He was the second youngest of eight children, and never had the opportunity to attend college. But my parents believed in the power of education to open doors and enable opportunities for their children.

In 1965, tuition at Douglass was $200 each semester. Fortunately I received a scholarship, and through federal loans and my work as a waitress in Cooper, I was able to cover the cost of my Douglass education. One of the proudest moments of my parents’ lives was the day I graduated from Douglass. The Honorable Shirley Chisholm was our speaker at Commencement on Antilles Field. That time was historic for her and for America, as it was for those of us who graduated that day.

The Douglass experience prepared us for lives of personal success and meaning. We were blessed to be taught and mentored by outstanding faculty (in my case, Alan Wolfe, Jim Rosenau, and Roy Licklider in Political Science), engaged a challenging curriculum grounded in the liberal arts, and had incredible opportunities for leadership and service both on campus and in the community.

We attended Douglass during an important moment in America’s history—confronting issues of Civil Rights, women’s rights, the war in Vietnam, and others. We experienced and learned not only inside the classroom but outside as well. We engaged in vigorous discussions: challenging assumptions, clarifying values, educating ourselves as citizens, and focusing on ideas and involvement.

From the dedication included in the Quair 1969:

“1969 brings us to the ever stronger realization that ideas are the kinetic energies that can…effect changes. Involvement is the idea with which youth most intensely identifies today, and it is in the spirit of this realization that we dedicate the Quair 1969 to the Idea of Involvement.”

My decision to attend graduate school in 1969 and pursue a career in higher education was a direct result of my Douglass experience. Getting to know our outstanding faculty and seeing their passion and excitement about teaching convinced me they had the best jobs in the world, and that was how I wanted to spend my professional life. The Douglass experience gave me the confidence to accept a political appointment in Washington, DC and engage in arms control work in Vienna and Geneva during the late 1970s and early 1980s. My decision to enter academic administration in the mid-1990s was driven by my desire to support students and faculty in achieving their goals—just as Douglass faculty and administrators had supported me decades earlier.

I was drawn to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro based in part on its roots as a women’s college, very much like Douglass—a college that has undergone major transformations since its founding in 1891, now a large co-educational research institution, serving a diverse student population, including many first generation students.

None of this would have been possible for me without Douglass. Each and every one of us in this Chapel has a similar story.

Much has changed among our colleges and universities since the late 1960s. We are emerging from the most challenging economic environment in decades. Our public colleges and universities have experienced significant budget cuts. Declining state support as a percentage of our budgets has resulted in significant increases in tuition, leading to growth in student debt. Students and their families, as well as our state legislatures, are demanding greater accountability and a stronger return on their investment. We are developing partnerships with other colleges and universities, nonprofits, and the private sector to achieve our goals. We are investing in new methods of instruction, including on-line courses and MOOCs, to more effectively serve non-traditional populations, including adult students and veterans. And all of us are focused on greater efficiencies in our operations and the development of alternative sources of revenue.

But some things have not changed, and should not change. Public colleges and universities must remain committed to access, affordability, and student success. We must continue to support diversity and inclusiveness, which is essential to quality learning and discovery. We must remain dedicated to liberal education—the kind of education we received at Douglass—which inspires growth, personal understanding and enlightenment. We must support the passion for discovery in the research, scholarship and creative activity of faculty, through which we invent the future and shape the quality of life for future generations. Finally, we must sustain our commitment to making a difference, in the lives of our students and the communities in which our colleges and universities reside.

Education remains a public good—important not only to those of us who have the opportunity to earn a degree, but also to society at large. College graduates earn an average of $1 million more than high school graduates over their working lifetimes, but they also are more likely to vote and to volunteer in their communities.

All of us understand the power of education to change lives. Education changed my life. It changed yours. It continues to change the lives of students at Douglass College, and those enrolled in all of our public institutions. This is a college where the next generation of leaders is born and where students from all walks of life can achieve their dreams. We must ensure these opportunities are available to future generations. The Idea of Involvement that was so important to us in 1969, remains critical today.

No college or university president or chancellor speaking to a group like this can conclude without calling for your help. Give back to Douglass. Remain engaged. Host an Extern. Whether you live here in New Jersey or elsewhere, talk with your legislators and members of the business and civic communities about the importance of public higher education. The possibilities that lie before us as a society are unlimited, but the future will depend upon our ability to educate the next generation. Future students will need, and deserve, the kind of education all of us were so fortunate to receive here at Douglass. “Hear our voices, Alma Mater, Douglass College, hail to thee.”

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