from the president
This year’s Commencement weekend was indeed memorable for all those in the Class of 2009, their parents, the faculty and staff of the College, and everyone gathered on the Quad beneath threatening clouds that never did produce the predicted rain, a happy omen to be certain. We came together to celebrate the achievements of the graduating seniors and to send our newest alumni out into a world as complex as any that Trinity graduates have ever faced. Complex, indeed, in ways we could not have imagined, even a few years ago. But as I shook hands with each of these bright, capable young men and women, I could feel their readiness to take on the challenges of that world and to employ their Trinity education to make it better.
Importantly for the Commencement of 2009, we also celebrated 40 years of coeducation here at our College. To mark that historic occasion, we presented three remarkable women—each of whom has had a dramatic impact in her own right—with honorary degrees, the highest accolade an academic institution can bestow. These stellar honorees included award-winning author Joanna Jeanne Scott ’82; Marjorie Van Eenam Butcher, professor emeritus of mathematics; and Deborah Bial, president and founder of The Posse Foundation.
As I looked out at the crowd (some estimates placed the number at more than 7,000, the largest known Commencement for which we have records), I thought about how the Trinity world had changed in those 40 years. Of the women receiving their diplomas in the Class of 2009, 19 had mothers who were Trinity graduates, 22 had sisters who were Trinity graduates, eight had female cousins who were Trinity graduates, and somewhere out in that sea of faces on the Quad were three proud aunts and at least one niece, also Trinity graduates. In 40 years, Trinity has gone from being all male to being at almost exact parity in the number of men and women in the entering classes.
And I am pleased to note that today 40 percent of Trinity’s faculty members are women. In that respect, the advances the College has made can be amply illustrated by the career of our cherished Marjorie Butcher, one of our honorary degree recipients, who was appointed the first woman to serve on the faculty more than a half of a century ago. She was subsequently appointed the first woman to be a full professor in Trinity’s history, and ultimately was appointed professor emeritus when she retired from her mathematics classroom some 20 years ago. I can think of no more fitting demonstration of the strength Trinity has gained by its conversion to coeducation than the sight of Professor Butcher on Commencement Day, surrounded by the host of well-wishers for whom she has deservedly become a symbol of the College’s vitality.
The world that our 2009 graduates are going to lead will not much resemble the world as it stood when the first women were admitted to Trinity. It will be a world in which English is not a mandatory language; a world in which the old, white, male-dominated patterns of behavior will not have withstood the test of time; and a world in which the way these graduates deal with diverse, multifaceted challenges will truly determine whether the spaceship Earth (to borrow Adlai Stevenson’s cogent term) will arrive safely at its destination. What better place for both men and women to learn together how the passengers aboard this ship should get along with each other than on this thoughtful, spirited campus of ours?
James F. Jones, Jr.
President and Trinity College Professor of the Humanities