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Aim for a balanced life

I am frequently asked to write opinion pieces for newspapers and journals on education, on women in society, and on a variety of other topics, so when the Weekly offered me this opportunity to speak to Mills women, especially our 2002 graduates, I was thrilled. I want first and foremost to acknowledge what an extraordinary academic year we have had at Mills. As we approach the end of academic year 2001-2002, we have much to be grateful for. In a troubled, often angry and confusing national and international climate, we have come together as a community to support one another, to gain a better understanding of issues, to express our views, and most importantly to do the academic, creative work that is our reason for being. We have been blessed with a rich array of visitors and activities, and we have also fostered greater understanding and connection in the world beyond Mills through the scholarship and creative productivity of our faculty and students.

In 2002, we are in the midst of celebrating 150 years of pioneering, groundbreaking, socially relevant education. Even after 150 years -or maybe especially after 150 years -Mills remains a radical idea: an institution that believes in the power of educated women to transform the world. San Francisco Chronicle editorial writer Ruth Rosen recently described Mills as a “national treasure.” When I think about my sense of Mills, I realize that each student and each student’s experience here is a “national treasure” -an investment in the long term health and vitality of our world. This year as we award our first doctoral degrees and our first MBA degrees, I am reminded of how our Mills students continue to expand the boundaries of opportunity and accomplishment.

Graduation is a momentous occasion -the celebration of accomplishments, but also the first step toward the rest of one’s life. Today, the challenge of composing a life involves how to live meaningfully, devoting oneself to all the work and experience one values, while also making room for family, friends, and solitude. For women, this balancing is especially difficult because we still shoulder much of the responsibility for the private domain even as we willingly take on greater leadership in the public arena.

Students often ask me what lessons I’ve learned from my own life that I might share. Above all, I would encourage each of you to aim high, to be true to your values, and to try with all your might to determine your priorities and make room for them. As many of you know, I have two daughters, 18 and 23, who are still a major part of my life-now more by phone and e-mail than in daily care and interaction. I am closely connected to my parents, my sister, my niece, my friends (many of whom are Mills connected), and the list goes on. I also do a great deal of volunteer work through service on a variety of non-profit boards. I have these connections, in addition to my very fulfilling work as Mills’ president, not out of a sense of duty or obligation, but because they are richly fulfilling. And, yes, often I have to take a deep breath because I feel a little overextended or off balance, but I look to my values and my sense of hope and optimism about the world to get my balance back. So let me offer my wish for all the members of the Mills community to have a rich, well balanced, and fulfilling end of the year and a great year of sesquicentennial celebration. Congratulations, 2002 Mills grads!