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Garden gathering at President’s House

Overview of the gathering at the garden reception. (Melodie Miu)

After a full day’s worth of Family Weekend activities, guests gathered at the President’s House for a garden reception on Friday, Oct. 1. A large white tent was set up on the grassy backyard; nicely dressed alumna, faculty and parents of current students drank bubbling champagne and ate finger foods.

The overall atmosphere was relaxed and filled with chattering. Just about everyone had something to say about that day.

Prior to arriving at the event, Priscilla Sarinas and Kim Wong – the parents of first year Rose Sarinas-Wong – attended ‘Jane’s Stroll,’ a small walking history tour led by alumna  Jane Cudlip King class of ’42. They were told stories about each stop they made around their daughter’s college campus.

“I was especially amused to hear about the food and how each dorm used to have their own dining hall,“ Sarinas said.

“That made me hungry during the tour,” Wong joked.

Martha Cristy-Couch, Mary Dana Korman and Carole Roberts Schmieder — alumnae ’60 and friends — arrived together at the reception with all smiles. They attended the Convocation ceremony in the morning and were amazed by the large attendance.

“It was so exciting and touching, I feel envious of today’s generation,” Cristy-Couch said.

Although Korman feels she received a really good education, she didn’t see any support for women in the community in the past.

“Back when we were in college, fifties women were supposed to stay home and be mothers so no one realized that we were at the stage of everything beginning to change,” Korman said.

“There is now a need for recognition of women’s achievements and it’s good that the college is reaching out to students,” Schmieder said.

The three alumnae agreed that the speeches were the highlights of the weekend. They were especially moved by this year’s Convocation speaker and activist Dolores Huerta.

“She was fantastic, I was delighted to hear that she worked alongside Cesar Chavez to protest for farm workers’ rights,” Korman said. “I cried when he died.”

Schmieder thought that Dolores Huerta really touched base with the audience.

“When she said ‘si se peude!’ the whole place started to chant along,” Schmieder said. “All the kids in front were hollering. I laughed when she said ‘We were all African’ because it’s true!”

Korman said that Huerta’s speech reminded her of the messages from the book ‘Holding up Half the Sky’ written by Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the first married couple to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1990

“It was all about empowering impoverished women,” Korman said.

Schmieder believes it would be the women to change the world if given the opportunities to do so.

“We have to encourage women everywhere to go out, be in the Peace Corps or participate in their villages and just make things happen,” Schmieder said. “It would make a huge difference.”

Catherine Ladnier, alumna ’70, graduated from Mills ten years after Cristy-Couch, Korman and Schmieder. She thought that Convocation demonstrated a real spirit and commitment towards women’s education and social justice. Ladnier was also moved by Dolores Huerta’s speech, noting how the speaker was able to approach serious subjects with humor.

“She was terrific and very funny,” Ladnier said. “Usually things like this are cheesy but it brought me tears in a good way.”

This year’s Convocation had commemorated the celebration of the famous Strike in 1990 when students protested co-education and successfully barricaded Mills College for two weeks in order to reverse the administrative decision.

“It’s actually not the first time students shut down the campus,” Ladnier said. “We did that when Nixon invaded Cambodia.”

Although she was proud of the students who won awards for their social service, Ladnier wasn’t too impressed.

“I hate to say this but [today’s] generation is too conservative,” Ladnier said. “Not a lot of young people are going out to the picket lines and are being confined by technology. Everyone’s too concerned about the way we appear so there’s no energy.”

Ladnier recalled phoning her daughter Vanessa who was attending college during the march in Washington D.C. to protest the war in Iraq in 2005 and encouraging her to join in.

“She told me ‘My friends and I are really happy you’re doing this but it might rain here’ – that and so on, so she didn’t go,” Ladnier said. “Can you believe it? An old fart mother telling her to go protest! Wait until there’s a draft, then there’ll be some action.”

Retiring President Janet Holmgren speaks to guests. (Melodie Miu)

Towards the end of the reception, retiring President Janet Holmgren stepped out onto the garden pavement with a microphone. The whole backyard grew silent, listening to the retiring president discuss a brief history of the President’s House.

“The only president to surpass my time at Mills was Amelia Reinhardt who was here for 27 years,” Holmgren said. “She had two boys and decided one day that she didn’t want to live at Mills Hall anymore.” A collective laughter spread across the audience.

“So this home was made to house the president,” she said.

Holmgren also talked about how she was going to spend her time after almost twenty years of working at Mills.

“I’m going to make trouble, cause a lot of things to happen,” Holmgren joked. “I love academia and advocating for women’s education. This has been the greatest ride in the world.”

“I’ve never heard her speak before but Janet Holmgren was a delight,” Schmieder said.