Transformation was the theme this year, as President Elizabeth Bradley kicked off her very first Convocation at Vassar. She recalled her own personal transformation when she left her work as a hospital administrator to get a PhD, and noted the difficulty people face when giving up something that at one time was very central to their lives. Students are facing their own transformation as first-year students embark on the new experience of college and seniors prepare to leave Vassar, Bradley said.
Vassar Student Association President Anish Kanoria ’18 acknowledged the forward momentum of students, the pressures on those about to graduate to figure out their future, but he urged students not to forget about the “now,” to savor the everyday moments and interactions that bind them to the Vassar community.
Mia Mask, Professor of Film on the Mary Riepma Ross ’32 Chair, delivered the Convocation address. Mask, whose research spans the intersections of feminism, black history, and cinema, focused much of her address on writer James Baldwin, whom she called “the father of black film studies,” emphasizing the astute cultural analysis he demonstrated in his work.
During Convocation, the Alumnae and Alumni of Vassar College (AAVC) honored two alumnae. For the first time ever, it bestowed its Young Alumnae/i Achievement or Service Award, which recognizes an alumna or alumnus who has graduated within the past 10 years, and whose personal and professional achievements already have had a significant impact within their chosen field.
The inaugural recipient was Marguerite “Maggie” O’Haire ’08, Assistant Professor of Human-Animal Interaction at Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, who studies how human behavior changes—often in unexpectedly positive ways—when we interact with animals. Her research focuses on the ways in which animals can help children with autism and veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.
It also bestowed the AAVC Award for Distinguished Achievement, which recognizes an alumna or alumnus who has reached the highest level in her or his field. While demonstrating exceptional talent, application, creativity, and skill within a certain career, this individual must also exemplify the ideals of a liberal arts education, and have used her or his position of visibility, power, or leadership to better the human community and serve the wider goals of society.
That award went to Frances “Sissy” Tarlton Farenthold ’46, P’75, a pioneer in politics, who was elected to the Texas State Legislature in 1968, becoming the only female member of the Texas House of Representatives. She subsequently ran two campaigns for governor of the state. Later, in an historic first, her name was placed in nomination for Vice President at the 1972 Democratic National Convention. Farenthold helped pave the way for other nominations of women for Vice President and, most recently, President of the United States.
View a slideshow of images and read transcripts of the speeches on Vassar’s Convocation website.