New Students Welcome

Hello First Years!

So good to be here with you—welcome Class of 2027!

I hope you have enjoyed your first hours on campus and various orientation materials so far…much more to come!

I would like to introduce myself a bit to you and give you a sense of my role at the College. I am beginning my seventh year as President, after decades at Yale University where I was Head of College for one of the residential colleges and directed the Yale global health program. Here, I am a professor of Science, Technology, and Society, and Political Science, and I have taught seminars in global health and global affairs. I am also a voracious reader. Most memorable books from this summer were: Grey Bees by Ukrainian novelist Andrey Kurkov and What’s Gotten Into You? by Vassar parent and author, Dan Levitt.

Grey Bees is a story about two older Ukrainian men who have been friends since childhood and are now trying to live their lives in what had become the “grey zone” between peace and war in Ukraine in 2014, almost a decade ago. The story is riveting in part because of the potential for violence in what could erupt into a war zone at any moment. But more memorable is the book’s lyricism and everyday-ness of taking care of own’s garden, walking for exercise, drinking—well, vodka—and taking care of bees…the main profession of the protagonist, Sergey. Somehow the book reminded me of the first year at Vassar, not that this in any way is a war zone; nevertheless, it is a place where you will be challenged in new ways, you will have tough times, maybe even a feeling of hopelessness from time to time. Yet in those times, this book reminds us that the simple rituals matter—tending a garden, walking in nature, and perhaps caring for and being part of something bigger than ourselves—as Sergey cared for and remained in community with the bees.

What’s Gotten Into You was a book about the science of the beginning of the world. It eloquently made the point that we are made from stars and then explored the beginning of time using all those cool subatomic particle words like quarks, muons, and neutrinos. I didn’t understand it all, but I did understand the wonder and awe that we are here, that our bodies work as they do, and that our time is unique.

The two books share for me a common theme—about awe. Whether derived from the tiniest joys in the midst of an almost-war zone or from the macro ideas across time and space about who we are—both books brought me to a place of wonderment about our world and our places in it. I hope in the days ahead, you will give yourself time and space to experience wonderment on this unique campus and as part of this dynamic and sublime community.

Here is a little more about me. I live on campus with my husband John, and guess what? Tomorrow is our 37th wedding anniversary! I met John on the first day of school at the University of Chicago—so watch out. You never know who is sitting near you!

Living on campus is a treat not only because it is so beautiful here but also because I enjoy having students over to the President’s House regularly to talk and interact. We have three adult children, all done with college and working, so we are empty nesters now—and we really enjoy sharing our house with students. I have office hours every Sunday night, which means any student can come and talk to me one-on-one about pretty much anything. Just email me ahead of time to sign up for a time. And you will receive an email every Sunday night from me with thoughts about the week ahead and the week past.

Last, and I want to be clear about this: we will live here together as adults. I am an adult and you are adults. I may be older and hence have more failures from which I have learned, but we are all adults. This means you have much independence and ability to explore and try out new ideas, activities, and ways of living. And because we are sharing this community, we are mutually dependent. Our actions are interconnected. This is exciting because we will learn from each other, and it also means that our individual actions affect the broader community and vice versa. My hope for this year is that we will strengthen many capacities—the capacity to think outside the box, to see the world from new perspectives, to care for one another in new ways, and to trust in community. These are bedrock skills that are fundamental to a liberal arts education and will equip us to lead meaningful lives together.

I am delighted to be here to share this time with you. Please take care of yourselves and each other, read my emails, and enjoy your Vassar journey!