Voices of Simmons

President Wooten's Convocation Address: Setting our Sights on the Path Ahead

Convocation is a special time in the annual rhythm of a university, when we come together as an academic community — a community of learners and teachers and scholars and colleagues — to mark the start of the year. And this year at Simmons, we celebrate the launch of the first phase of a new academic campus, a renewed focus on the student experience, and, most importantly, a return to our campus.

My warmest welcome to everyone joining us today both in person and through our livestream, including the first-year undergraduates members of the Class of 2025, who are just joining the Simmons family. And a special welcome to the Class of 2024 who now enjoy their first year as part of our on-campus, in-person community.

The experience of the classes of 2024 and 2025 is unique and certainly one for the history books. As we come together as a community, we all look forward to getting to know you, and getting to know you better.

These two incoming undergraduate classes are not alone, though, in needing a campus orientation. Our faculty and staff – and our on-campus graduate students – are experiencing a newly renovated academic campus. We will be getting used to new room numbers, changed classrooms and relocated offices, spaces newly outfitted to welcome students.

I also want to welcome our new online students – graduate and now undergraduate. In May, the first online undergraduate students in our CompleteDegree program joined Simmons. This week, the second cohort begins classes. These students join our community from around the country, helping to fulfill our mission to reach more people seeking the type of career opportunities that were at the heart of the University’s founding.

My final welcome is to the more than 30 new full-time faculty who are starting at Simmons this week. This may be the largest class of new faculty in the University’s history – it’s certainly the largest group of new faculty in recent memory.

This Convocation is the start of our academic year and a celebration of academic achievement. My congratulations to all the students inducted into the Academy today, and to Eliot Stanton for receiving the Alumnae Award for Academic Achievement. Your dedication to academic excellence makes us proud.

Thank you, Lynne Devnew and Theresa Brewer, for your presentation of the Alumnae Association Award. The alums of Simmons are critical supporters of this institution; we depend on your time, talent, treasure, testimony, and ties to advance Simmons to the next level.

I also want to offer special congratulations to Professors Gans-Boriskin, Graves, Tang, Gurney, and Bailey, for fulfilling Simmons’ mission of teaching, scholarship and service at the highest levels. Empowering faculty excellence is one of my priorities as President of the University. And you exemplify that excellence.

Here at Simmons, we are at a pivotal moment of renewal as we set our sights on the path ahead.

Even as we enter to a new phase of the pandemic with the Delta variant causing us to adjust our lives yet again, I still believe that this September marks a fresh beginning for us. The last 18 months have been so very difficult, as we have grieved losses and struggled through isolation, sadness, and economic uncertainty. All of us lost experiences we expected and hoped for.

But as we gather here today, we have learned so much. We know how to keep ourselves and one another safe. We take the precautions we must for the good of all. Just as important, as we look back at the last academic year, we realize that we did, in fact, find ways to build community and move forward even as we were physically apart. Through many large and small acts of inclusive leadership, our faculty, students, and staff achieved so much over the last 18 months, despite the constraints.

Maya Angelou once said that “every storm runs out of rain” and she urged us to “be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.” Yes, the journey we have traveled over these months has at times felt like one long storm – producing a mix of emotions that define real grief, including sadness, anger, depression, and frustration. But this community has also shown remarkable resilience and compassion as we have worked to be those rainbows. Our faculty put enormous creative effort into developing online learning; our staff members supported student learning and wellbeing; Simmons students persisted with their studies and with truly innovative community outreach.

Chilean author Isabel Allende once wrote: “We don't even know how strong we are until we are forced to bring that hidden strength forward. In times of tragedy, of war, of necessity, people do amazing things. The human capacity for survival and renewal is awesome.”

Here at Simmons, we are at a pivotal moment of renewal as we set our sights on the path ahead.

We are just about to complete the first phase of the Simmons academic campus renewal, which is the physical manifestation of our mission to provide life-changing experiences for our students. We are creating vibrant spaces for our community to gather together. We want to make working with Simmons easier for students by co-locating the registrar, student financial services, and the bursar together. And we have relocated Student Affairs for greater student accessibility and engagement.

These places – along with the new science facilities and new library that will open by this time next year – reflect both our history and our commitment to the future. We learned last year that Simmons is much more than just physical space. But we also recognize that, for so many of us, this place in the heart of the Fenway is truly important. Our campus symbolizes our commitment to make the world better through our education, our scholarship, and our service – whether we are doing that here in Boston or around the world.

Beyond our physical spaces, this is a time for renewal within ourselves, and within our community. Our individual and collective experiences of this past year and a half have prompted many of us to focus on what matters most to us. How can we, in this “new normal,” live lives of meaning? Some of you have heard me talk about the concept of everyday leadership. It is the idea that each of us can utilize our unique strengths to be a leader in our everyday lives, to include everyone around us in our work, and to help all of us thrive.

The world needs everyday leadership more than ever before. The pandemic affected women and people of color disproportionately. Those without a college education and those in the service industry have been less able to rebound. Health care workers are again on the front line of COVID caseloads. Our communities need us to lead, and to serve. Each of us can explore how we can contribute our talents to the work ahead.

Our communities need us to lead, and to serve. Each of us can explore how we can contribute our talents to the work ahead.

As I thought about renewal, both of our physical spaces and our individual goals, Amanda Gorman’s poem called "In This Place" came to mind. Here’s how it begins:

There’s a poem in this place—
in the footfalls in the halls
in the quiet beat of the seats.
It is here, at the curtain of day,
where America writes a lyric
you must whisper to say.

The “footfalls in the halls” and “quiet beat of the seats” reminds me of Simmons — a space representing more than a hundred years of students learning and leading. And, as we reflect on all we have been through, I am confident each of us can write our own meaningful lyrics with a renewed focus on kindness, wellbeing, and grace towards ourselves and others. These lyrics tell a powerful story as we stride into the future and continue to pursue everyday leadership as we work to achieve lives of purpose, justice, and societal progress.

The poem ends with this last verse:

There’s a place where this poem dwells—
it is here, it is now, in the yellow song of dawn’s bell
where we write an American lyric
we are just beginning to tell.

We start the academic year with a new Simmons story that many of us are just beginning to tell — one built on a proud legacy of working to make the world better. Let us celebrate the start of a new era, and begin to write a new Simmons lyric, individually and together, collectively as one community focused on the good of all.

Thank you.

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