Opening Convocation Address by SGA President Erin Paschal ’10

August 28, 2009

Hello! And welcome, Class of 2013. We’re so excited to have each and every one of you here.

I thought it might best serve you if I used this opportunity to pass on a few of the insights and pieces of advice that I have gained from my time as a Mary Baldwin college student. While I might already be entering my wistful, college senior stage, I still hope that you will be able to take away these three principles to help you with your transformation into a Mary Baldwin student: eat, drink, and be merry. Simple, yes. But let me explain.

This summer I was lucky enough to have one of those amazing, life-altering experiences. I spent the summer interning for GE’s government relations office, taking classes at Georgetown University, and attending lectures and site briefings all over Washington, DC. And it was during the application process for the program and for the GE internship that I realized just how much I have been benefited by my time as a Mary Baldwin student. I can definitively say that had I not attended Mary Baldwin, I would not have been accepted into this program or garnered this great internship. The experience I have gained through student government, the resume building I have achieved with campus jobs, and the personalized recommendation letters I have been able to gather through close connections with the faculty and staff have better prepared me for life after college than I had ever imagined.

But all these factors also made me a better prospect for employers and programs. The plethora of opportunities we are granted on a daily basis allows us to truly shine in the real world. So I say to any non-Mary Baldwin alum who is also applying for the same job or spot in a program or graduate school as me or any of my classmates, bring it on. We can out-compete students from every school and university in the country.

So I will once again steal my favorite phrase from our President: Devour Baldwin. If you take advantage of all of the different opportunities on this campus, from student government to civic engagement to the arts to lectures to your regular classes, you will become a confident, compassionate, changemaker — because you have no other choice. And the outside world will notice these qualities as well. And you will be able to go further in your life after Baldwin than you imagined.

But on this campus, we can take these strong qualities for granted. It can seem as though everyone possesses these characteristics. Everyone is confident. Everyone has passion and compassion. Everyone wants to institute change. But this is not the case. I’m here to tell you, not everyone comes out of college with the desire to change the world, or the compassion to help others, the confidence to strive for more like a Mary Baldwin grad. Through Baldwin and the chances it provides us with, we take on these qualities without even realizing it.

At one point during the summer, I was sitting in a classroom with sixty bright, intelligent, informed college students — half of whom were female — listening to two of Washington’s most prominent auto lobbyists discuss everything of importance to our country’s auto industry. These were the men who crafted the Cash for Clunkers legislation. This was an amazing opportunity. A chance that may come only once in a lifetime. And when we came to the question and answer section, I listened to the exchange between the lobbyists and the students, and it wasn’t until the sixth question that I realized all the questions thus far had been asked by men. And as I looked around this room of college students, all of whom had all proven themselves to be worthy of this program and this experience, I saw something I will never forget: a willingness, and an eagerness even, by these smart women to take a backseat role. And while I’ve never doubted that an all women’s education lived up to its reputation and expectations, it was in this moment that I knew that everything I read, everything I heard, and everything I suspected was true. This institution, this all female atmosphere, creates bold women. Strong women. Passionate women. Women who will not stand for being in a supporting role. We lead. We do not follow. Devour all that Baldwin has to offer and you will be transformed into this boldly Baldwin woman.

And trust me, if you embrace Baldwin you will be transformed into someone you had no idea you could be. Earlier this week I was lucky enough to listen to a fellow student talk about her experience at Mary Baldwin. She talked about the fact that Baldwin is a transformational school. Not only do we grow as students and as professionals, but we truly grow as individuals. This is not a school where you can just coast through. Much is required and much is expected. Your peers, your professors, and your advisors will push you further than you thought you could go. This school pushes you. You are not allowed to put in minimal effort. But trust me when I say this: you get out ten-times what you put in.

However, this same student, when talking about the transformational nature of Mary Baldwin also said that it took her a little while to drink the Kool-Aid and accept the transformational nature of Baldwin. So let me say this right away, drink the Kool-Aid. Mary Baldwin is a unique institution that has so many qualities — tangible and intangible — that cannot be found elsewhere. Be open to all aspects of Mary Baldwin and you will never be the same.

But your path at Baldwin will not be without some difficulties. It is possible to be overwhelmed and to not experience all the great things that Baldwin has to offer, so I want pass on what has kept me alive these past three years. My meager words of wisdom, if you will. Mistakes are going to happen. Problems are going to arise. But just as problems will occur and mistakes will be made, solutions will be found. It’s that simple. You can and you will overcome these hurdles. And it’s not easy. But you will deal with whatever arises because you are braver than you believe and you are stronger than you think.

But while you know that some difficulties lie ahead, you must also remember to enjoy yourself and to enjoy your college experience. Benjamin Franklin said that you must not anticipate trouble or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight. So yes, life will throw you curveballs, and you will deal with them when they arise, but until then enjoy every moment.

So again I want to welcome you, the Class of 2013 to our Mary Baldwin family. And to remind you of these few things: take advantage of all the opportunities. Allow yourself to experience change. And don’t sweat the small stuff.

In other words, Devour Baldwin. Drink the Kool-Aid. Keep in the sunlight.

Eat, drink, and be merry. For this is the time of your life.

This address was given by SGA President Erin Paschal ’10 at Opening Convocation, August 28, 2009.