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Convocation speakers call on Mills and women to take it a “step further”

Holmgren addresses Convocation attendees and speaker, Dolores Huerta. (Heather McDaniel)

“Women matter, but we have to take it a step further and say, ‘women rule’!” said Dolores Huerta, labor leader and human rights activist, to a crowd that could not be contained in the Littlefield Concert Hall alone, overflowing into Lisser Hall.

Huerta spoke at this year’s Convocation on October 1 about the importance of women leadership in today’s society. She was joined in this message by Mills College President Janet Holmgren and lifetime Trustee Evelyn “Muffy” McKinstry Thorne.

This year also marked Holmgren’s 20th and final Convocation as President of Mills College. She met the crowd of students with enthusiasm, calling to each class to shout out their class colors.

“This was an inspiring and authentically Mills event,” she said in an interview after Convocation. “It showed our commitment to higher standards of celebrating women.”

Convocation is an annual Mills College event bringing together students, faculty, alumni and other members of the Mills community in celebration of the new academic year. It is also a time for honoring high achieving students, faculty and members of the 2011 graduating class. During this year’s celebration, Huerta and Thorne were each given honorary degrees from the College.

Faculty listen to Convocation speakers (Heather McDaniel).

Huerta’s speech focused on how women are an important part of solving equality issues in society today. Specifically, Huerta used racism and workers’ rights as examples of areas that need improvement.

“Unless you’re a Native American, your people came from somewhere,” she said. “We need to eliminate racism altogether. We are one human race.”

Education was also a key point in Huerta’s speech. She stressed the importance of educating women to be powerful leaders at all levels of society.

“If we do not have women in those decision making positions, they will make the wrong decisions,” she said, emphasizing such issues as reproductive rights, equality of marriage and women and immigrant rights.

Convocation attendees gathered in Littlefield Concert Hall (Heather McDaniel).

“We need women in leadership, she said in an interview after the event. “We need to take the next step – running for office. When it comes to public campaign reform, that’s a major issue for us all.”

Huerta’s message of community action drove the crowd to cheer, clap and stomp. She led the audience in a chant of “si se puede!”, or “yes we can!”, her slogan during the fight for immigrant workers’ rights.

“Dolores Huerta was amazing,” said Audree Scheffer DeAngeles, an alumna of the College and a current parent of a Mills senior. “There is something about her energy that makes you want to do whatever she says.”

The other honorary degree recipient, Evelyn “Muffy” McKinstry Thorne, class of 1948, spoke about how the College has changed since she attended it.

“The College has made great strides,” she said, acknowledging the achievements in diversity on campus.

She , however, recognized elements of college life when she was an undergraduate that she felt the school could use today, including a regulation basketball court and a public speaking requirement.

“After all, you never know when you might get an honorary degree,” she said, laughing.

One of her biggest concerns was the lack of a drama department at Mills.

“It’s time to restore that program,” she said. “You can’t have a liberal arts education without the dramatic arts.”

She also noted the quickly fleeting greenery on campus.

“No more buildings – we miss the green space and I fear we’re running out of it.”

Her final words were to the students.

“With your minds and hearts unfurled, you can change the world.”

Heather McDaniel, Nicole Vermeer and Ellen Newten contributed to this report.

Dolores Huerta addresses the crowd at Convocation (Heather McDaniel)