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July 2020 President’s Newsletter

I started writing this newsletter four times but kept asking myself: How can I write an upbeat annual report about a small, increasingly successful membership organization when the world is in such chaos?  Ignoring issues in the broader world feels tone-deaf.  Addressing them in this space feels utterly presumptuous.  But I have news of our club and of the college to report.  So here goes.

News from the Club

Three new officers have joined our board:  Helen Clement ’76 as treasurer, Joy Ohm ’97 as secretary and Bea O’Shea ’91 as web administrator.  Many thanks to officers stepping down, Rachel Wang ’88 and Beth Notar ’85.

The 2019-2020 program year began in August 2019 with a lively Launch Lunch, welcoming first-years and their parents, along with current students and alums.  Christine Ho ’04, associate professor of East Asian art at UMass Amherst, guided our tour of “Buddhas/Buddhisms: Across and Beyond Asia” at the Smith College Museum of Art in October. (Thanks to Rachel Wang for organizing this popup.)  In November we hosted staff and students from the Madeleine Korbel Albright Institute for Global Affairs at Wellesley.  It was inspiring to hear the Fellows speak so thoughtfully about their internship experiences and their plans and hopes for the future.   This was our first effort at bringing a group of students and program leaders from the college to the Valley to talk with us; everyone was thrilled with the evening.  In December we exchanged cookies, good wishes for the holidays, and hopes for a happy new year.  

The second half of the program year was tumultuous.  Impelled by the March lockdown, we canceled our April faculty speaker, our May Three Sibs event on food insecurity in the Valley, our annual summer picnic and our August Launch Lunch, which had been planned to welcome first-years from the class of 2024.  We held our annual meeting online via Zoom. 

This brief description of events held and events canceled doesn’t capture the caring and enthusiasm our members have shown to one another and to the broader community since the lockdown.  Helen Clement organized eight club members and one current student to do a phone check-in for our older alums.  Several club members have done errands for older alums.  Beth Notar wrote congratulatory letters to local students who were scheduled to graduate in May.  We sent them gift cards and complimentary one-year club memberships.  One of those students said in her note to the club: “Thank you so much for your kind letter and gift! I so appreciate it.  I'm hoping to use the gift to help buy a memento from the Wellesley College Bookstore website.  It's wonderful to know that people are looking out for our 2020 class. It was so sad to have to leave Wellesley so early, but we are lucky to be joining such a rich alumnae community.”  


Our popups are alive and well thanks to Zoom.  Just a reminder: A popup is a self-initiated gathering of alums who want to share ideas and experiences on a topic of mutual interest.  In previous years, we’ve held popups at such places as the Smith art museum, a quilt studio, an off-the-grid house in Montague, an artist’s house and garden in Williamsburg and the Smith observatory.  Now our popups are online.  The great virtue of Zoom popups is that they are easier to organize, and easier to attend, than popups in the other world (which used to be called the real world).  Martha Hanner ’63 took us on a trip to Jupiter, describing her experiences as a Jupiter mission scientist.  Alicia Lopez  ’91, Rachel Wang and I organized an extraordinary conversation on structural racism.  We met in small Zoom breakout groups for very personal and thoughtful conversation.  We reconvened to share observations and suggestions for readings and viewings.  If you did not attend that popup, but would like a copy of the resource list, you can find it on our website.  If you are interested in additional meetings, let Alicia or me know.  Nina Scott ’59 will introduce us to the Transatlantic Pineapple in the fall.  

It’s easy to organize a popup.  You can fill out a form on our website describing what you’d like to do.  One of our popup coordinators, Gigi Barnhill ’66, Margot Cleary ’71 and Rachel Wang, will contact you to set up a Zoom time and invitation and offer technical help if you need it.  And that’s it.  Then you can enjoy an informal conversation with other alums who share your interest.

Congratulations to nine high school seniors from our region who accepted offers of admission to Wellesley in the fall.  As I noted above, we had to cancel this year’s Launch Lunch, but we will find other ways to introduce these students to one another and current students and wish them well as they begin their Wellesley adventure.  Congratulations as well to Darby Dyar ’80, recipient of the 2020 Alumnae Achievement Award.  Darby, a planetary geologist, is on the faculty at Mount Holyoke.  She was a host at our star-gazing popup at the Smith planetarium and was a panelist at last year’s Three Sibs event on women and girls in science.  And an anticipatory welcome to Julie Matthaei, Wellesley professor emerita of economics, who will deliver her faculty lecture, which had been scheduled for April, via Zoom in on September 16, 7pm via Zoom.  Her topic is “From Inequality to Solidarity: Co-Creating a New Economics for the 21st Century.” 

News from the College

The college closed on March 16 and sent almost all students home.  The remainder of spring semester instruction was held online.  Reunion and graduation events were also held online.  The college’s operating budget took an unanticipated hit in April when partial room and board fees were returned and startup costs for online instruction ramped up.  Salary and hiring freezes were instituted, administrators took salary cuts and some workers were furloughed over the summer.  The college expects a substantial bottom-line shortfall in the fall as students are likely to need increased financial aid, endowment investments may decline and philanthropic contributions are likely to slow.  The college anticipates a $15 million budget deficit in FY21.

On June 30 President Paula Johnson announced plans for the coming academic year. First-years and sophomores will be invited to campus in the fall; juniors and seniors, in the spring.  From her announcement:

  • Fall classes will begin on August 31 and will include two seven-week terms.
  • Term 1 will run from August 31 through October 13, followed by a short reading period and final exams. October 18–25 is a break between terms; students who are living on campus will be expected to stay on campus during this break.  The college will provide an array of wellness, leadership and reflection activities to engage and support students during this time.
  • Term 2 will begin on October 26. Students living on campus will be asked to stay through Thanksgiving break, which allows the college to maximize in-person class time and finish classes earlier than usual.  Classes will end on December 11. Reading period and finals will be remote and will extend from December 12 to December 18.  Students may choose to remain on campus to study and take exams.
  • In place of its traditional wintersession, the college will offer innovative experiential learning projects, conducted remotely, that will be grounded in building connected communities, leadership development and reflection.
  • Spring terms will begin February 1 and conclude in mid-May.  The college plans to celebrate commencement for the class of 2021 on May 28, and will announce plans early next year for the on-campus celebration for the class of 2020.
  • To give students additional options for residential or remote study, the college expects to offer a program of both in-person and remote seven-week courses during an optional summer term in 2021.

In Conclusion

The mission of our club is to foster connection, engagement and support among members of the Wellesley community living in Massachusetts’ Pioneer Valley:

  • Connection with other members who share interests, life circumstances and an undergraduate college. 
  • Engagement through teaching and learning with those who share a passion for the arts, the environment, community service and social justice. 
  • Support for one another, our local community and the college. 

This statement was written and ratified by club members in 2016.  We all have too much to do, too much to worry about, too many organizations competing for our resources.  But I hope this newsletter reminds you of our club and what we can offer one another.
Please pay your annual dues, via this link on the home page of our website.  

Lee Sproull, President