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President Eugene Tobin's Remarks at Kirkland Commemorative Celebration

Honorees Recognized for Commitment to Kirkland College

By Mike Debraggio
Posted June 10, 2002
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Kirkland Commemorative Celebration
President Tobin's Remarks and Presentations to Honorees

At this time of year, college and high school commencement speakers often remind graduates of an observation attributed to Isaac Newton:  "You have reached this milestone," Newton is alleged to have said, "because you have stood on the shoulders of giants.  Indeed, our own Commencement speaker, Christie Whitman, recalled these words when talking with Hamilton's 412 graduates two weeks ago.

It's an apt observation for us this afternoon.  Hamilton is the strong and vibrant college that it is today because of the women and men we will honor shortly - men and women whose educational vision, entrepreneurial spirit, unfailing courage and immeasurable vitality  have nurtured and sustained Kirkland College, and whose continued dedication to Kirkland's ideals and values guides their advocacy for Hamilton today.

Think about it. At the time of its founding, Kirkland was the first independent women's college to be established in the East in more than four decades. But this was not to be just another liberal arts college. Kirkland would become an experimental and completely non-traditional women's college - vastly different from its primary benefactor.  Kirkland's educational flavor was very much in keeping with the innovative spirit of the 1960s; it was to be purposefully different from Hamilton, yet complementary at the same time. 

We talk a lot about the Kirkland legacy - as well we should.  It is a vital part of who were are - and what we stand for as a College.  Since Hamilton and Kirkland combined nearly 25 years ago, the liberal arts education offered to women and men on this hilltop has been significantly enhanced, most notably by Kirkland's emphases on the arts, curricular innovation and interdisciplinary study.  Hamilton has benefited tremendously from Kirkland's more alternative strengths and a new balance now exists in Hamilton's curriculum that had not been there before.

But the true legacy of Kirkland College are the people associated with this wonderful institution - student pioneers and risk-takers whose independence of mind makes them leaders today in their professions and in their communities; faculty members whose creativity and entrepreneurial spirit continues to challenge and invigorate students; and sponsors and benefactors whose vision and commitment to Kirkland's ideals continues to infuse the liberal arts with a vitality and relevance that has made Hamilton a leader in American higher education.

It is the latter group - sponsors and benefactors - those whose vision and commitment gave rise to an extraordinary college and whose spirit and vitality keep that vision alive today - that we honor this afternoon.  They are, to a person, active and committed proponents of women's education on College Hill, not just today, but 30 and 40 years ago when the idea wasn't nearly as obvious … nor as popular. 

This afternoon, we reflect back with the knowledge and understanding that these men and women have served well the cause of education on this hilltop.  They have made the liberal arts more complete, more meaningful, more balanced and, quite frankly, more interesting for the talented men and women who join this intellectual community each fall.  It is especially appropriate today - and long overdue - that we pay special tribute to these educational pioneers.

I would like to ask Kirkland College President Sam Babbitt to join me in making these special awards.

I now call Walter Beinecke to the podium.

You are a builder, but one who respects and honors tradition and preservation.  On Nantucket, where you have been a long-time resident, you have taken a leadership role in the island's revitalization and preservation.  And as a result of your vision, Nantucket has prospered while remaining true to its heritage.

Your legacy to education on College Hill is no less visionary and lasting.  In 1962, you became chair of the Hamilton Trustee Committee on Planning and were instrumental in the creation of Kirkland College. Subsequently, as the first chairman of the Board of Trustees at Kirkland, you nurtured and sustained one of America's most educationally innovative institutions at the time, a college which included in its charter class your daughter.

Your service to the students and faculty on College Hill continues to this day as a life trustee, and we are enormously enriched by the wise counsel you have provided over nearly four decades to six presidents and six board chairmen.

It is fitting, then, that the Student Activities Village - a building that physically and psychologically joins the two campuses - is named in honor of a man who has spent more than 40 years in service to both campuses.

We are delighted, therefore, to recognize your singular contributions to coeducation on College Hill by presenting you with this beautiful Steuben apple as a token of our appreciation.

I now call Richard Couper, Hamilton College Class of 1944, to the podium.

Dick Couper has been an educational trailblazer/pioneer throughout his distinguished career, so it is no surprise to those of us who are privileged to know him that he is among those to be honored today. As a young alumnus and board member you chaired the Hamilton trustees' first long-range planning committee, a group that ultimately recommended a coordinate college system, of which an all-women's college was to be the first. 

Although you subsequently stepped down from the committee after accepting President Robert McEwen's offer to become administrative vice president at Hamilton in 1962, you were a member of the Hamilton administration when your father, Edgar W. Couper, a 1920 Hamilton graduate and the chancellor of the New York State Board of  Regents at the time, signed the charter for the new women's college on March 26, 1965.  It was fitting that you and your family should play such important roles in Kirkland's founding since the Couper family traces its roots to the very early days of Hamilton's existence.  

But your contributions to coeducation on College Hill are noteworthy in their own right. At the time Kirkland welcomed its first students, you were then the acting president of Hamilton, following the untimely death of President McEwen.  Although you left College Hill in 1969 to become the first Deputy Commissioner for Higher Education, and subsequently served as the New York Public Library's first full-time president and CEO, and later as the president of The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation,  you have remained to this day a loyal and staunch advocate for Kirkland's values and ideals.

Dick, it is indeed a great personal pleasure to join with Sam, your fellow president on College Hill in the late 1960s, in recognizing your many enduring contributions to coeducation on this campus.

I'd like to ask Eugenie A. Havemeyer to join us at the podium.

There is a plaque in the Beinecke Student Activities Village that captures a great deal about our next honoree.  It adorns a wall leading down to the sunken living room on the east side of the building.  Although the plaque memorializes two great Hamilton men who died much too young - Frank Howard Thomas Jr., Class of 1938, and his brother, John Atlee Light Thomas, Class of 1940 - it is placed in tribute to our next honoree, Frank and John's sister. The plaque reads:

Kirkland Alumnae Lounge
 This gathering place honors Kirkland College - women and men -
 whose indomitable spirit endows Hamilton with the strength, courage
 and grace of a memorable undertaking."

   In memory of:
   Frank Howard Thomas, Jr., M.D. '38
   John Atlee Light Thomas, M.D. '40

The plaque and the story behind it say a great deal about the generosity, commitment and love you have for the students who study on College Hill. Whether through your involvement as a founding member of the Kirkland Board of Trustees, including service as a vice chair from 1971 to 1978, or your reasoned and astute perspective as a Hamilton Charter Trustee, your candor, conviction and perspective have benefited this College enormously.  Your special advocacy for maintaining the integrity of the Kirkland architecture is just one way in which you help to ensure the Kirkland legacy. 

For these reasons and many others, it is my great pleasure to offer you this token of our deepest appreciation.

It is now my pleasure to ask Elizabeth McCormack to join Sam and me at the podium.

As president of your alma mater, Manhattanville College, from 1966 to 1974 you said "a college committed to inquiry and social concerns cannot be static, finished, closed."  You then led Manhattanville's transformation from a traditional, Roman Catholic women's college into a nonsectarian, coeducational institution with a more flexible and individualized academic program.  Since that time you have served on the boards of many corporations, foundations and educational institutions, and you are widely considered to be among the most knowledgeable and influential leaders in American higher education.

First as a trustee for Kirkland College, and since 1978 as a Hamilton trustee, it has been our good fortune to be able to rely on your experience, insight and wisdom. Your well-deserved reputation as an educational innovator has helped keep the Kirkland legacy for creativity and innovation alive on this hill for the past 25 years, and we are a better and more forward-looking college because you encourage us to take educational risks and to accept academic challenges. 

Elizabeth, I have known and admired you for more than 20 years. It is a great personal honor to present you with this Steuben apple as a small token of Hamilton's gratitude for all you have done for this College.

Our next honoree is a member of an extensive Hamilton family, but he is unable to be with us today. Fran Musselman, a Utica native raised in Watertown, is a 1950 Hamilton graduate and the parent of a member of the Kirkland Class of 1975.  He succeeded Walter Beinecke as Chairman of the Kirkland College Board of Trustees in 1972 and has been a Hamilton trustee since 1978. Throughout his long tenure as a member of two boards on College Hill he has been a loyal, emotional and outspoken advocate for women's education. And to this day, he remains one of Kirkland College's most ardent supporters.

I now call on Susan Skerritt, Kirkland Class of 1977, to join us at the podium.

Our next honoree often jokes that her Kirkland classmates sometimes eyed her with suspicion because, as an economics major, she took many of her courses at Hamilton. But over the years, few women have been as devoted to the ideals of both colleges. 

Despite a demanding career in the financial services industry, you have been a enthusiastic and committed volunteer, serving as the first woman president of the College's Alumni Council from 1992 to 1994 and as the second Kirkland graduate on the Hamilton Board of Trustees.  In recognition of  your participation with the Admission and Career Center volunteer programs, the Reunion Gift Committee, the Annual Fund Top Prospect Committee and co-chair of regional events for The New Century Campaign, you were named the second recipient and the first woman of the Volunteer of the Year Award.

While seeing Hamilton succeed is important to you, so is your commitment to keeping the Kirkland legacy alive on College Hill. You have been a champion for Kirkland women, chairing a committee in the mid-90s that sought to reconnect alumnae to their time on campus.  Your efforts led to more regional events specifically for Kirkland women, and the first-ever directory of Kirkland alumnae.

You once said that as a Kirkland alumna, you feel heartened by the ways in which Hamilton has evolved through Kirkland's influence.  Thank you for the time and energy you have committed to make that happen. It is through your example and tireless efforts that Kirkland and Hamilton have never been closer.

It's now my pleasure to ask Charlie Svenson, Hamilton Class of 1961, to come forward.

While still in his 30s, our next honoree had already established himself as a legal and financial whiz kid, skills that were of enormous value to the Kirkland Board of Trustees, which you served with great distinction from 1976 to 1978.  A year later, you brought those skills - and your invaluable perspective for coeducation on College Hill - to the Hamilton Board of Trustees where you have provided extraordinary guidance and insight.  Since 1992, you have served as chair of the Board's Buildings, Grounds and Equipment Committee, chair of the Budget and Finance Committee, and co-chair of the Investment Committee.  It is in these roles, and ever-mindful of the needs on the Kirkland campus, that you have helped protect and sustain the physical legacy of the entire Hamilton campus. Now, having earlier this weekend broken ground for a significantly  renovated and expanded Science Building, we will again look to you for continued guidance and advice as we turn our attention to a renewal and probable expansion of the facilities across College Hill Road.

In recognition of the leadership role you have played in nurturing and sustaining coeducation on College Hill, I am delighted to join with Sam in presenting you this token of Hamilton's appreciation.

Now, I'd like to invite Susan Valentine, Kirkland College Class of 1973, to join us at the podium

As the first Kirkland College graduate to serve as a Hamilton Charter Trustee, you have provided the vision, the leadership and the energy that have encouraged hundreds of Kirkland women to reconnect with their time on College Hill … and with each other.  This weekend's Kirkland celebration is further evidence of those efforts.

One of the first strong Kirkland supporters of Hamilton after the two colleges were combined, you volunteered from the start to help in any way you could. As vice chair of the Annual Fund, class agent, campaign volunteer, Alumni Council member, free agent, reunion chair, reunion gift committee member, admission volunteer, alumni association officer, career center volunteer, and, of course, trustee, you have served your alma mater generously and with great results, including three Annual Fund class awards.

But it has been in your role as the principal architect behind this weekend's commemorative celebration, and your broader desire to reunite women to their time on College Hill, that we owe you our deepest gratitude. Your tireless efforts on behalf of all of us who care deeply about Kirkland and Hamilton are already being felt, and in a short time we will unveil the wonderful sculpture that will create a permanent physical presence of Kirkland on College Hill.

I am thoroughly delighted that we have this opportunity to publicly recognize you and thank you for what you have done to perpetuate and sustain the Kirkland legacy on this campus.
Our final recipient this afternoon played a unique role in establishing coeducation on College Hill, and it is my pleasure to share with you some of what he has meant - and continues to mean - to those women and men associated with Kirkland College.


Samuel Fisher Babbitt
In the 1960s, the vision for Kirkland College was very much in keeping with the innovative spirit of the time and our next honoree was without question the right man to bring that vision to reality. During the more than two years between your selection by the Kirkland Board of Trustees to become president and the opening of the College, you guided Kirkland's development from a conceptual framework into an innovative institution with an interdisciplinary and flexible curriculum focused to meet the needs of young women.  You were the principal architect of the College, its educational philosophy, its curriculum, and its concept of community governance. It was, as a 1972 Kirkland Self-Study proclaimed, "an institution that would be new in spirit as well as in substance, one that would undertake to answer as completely as possible the intellectual and personal needs of women in the second half of the twentieth century." 

Despite your disappointment when the two colleges combined in 1978, your involvement with Kirkland continues to this day. You remain very much in touch with hundreds of members of the Kirkland community and are a regular visitor back to College Hill to help Kirkland classes celebrate their milestone reunions.  Not too long ago, you and Natalie welcomed Kirkland alumnae back to your home in Providence following a regional theatre production in which you performed.

The vision you shaped in the mid-60s is alive today on College Hill, not as one part of two separate but complementary colleges, but as one strong, vibrant intellectual community that demands from its students creativity, self-reliance and personal responsibility. 

A celebration to commemorate Kirkland College and its enduring legacy could not be possible without your involvement, so I am delighted to welcome you back to campus so that we can express our heartfelt gratitude.

I am going to ask Sam to remain with me on stage as we move to the next part of our program.

Three years ago, Hamilton lost a great friend and one of Kirkland's most ardent supporters.  As an alumni trustee from 1960 to 1966, Chuck Root became a vigorous advocate of the proposed coordinate college for women.  Appointed a trustee of Kirkland in 1968, he brought experience and enthusiasm to its board, on which he remained until Hamilton and Kirkland were combined in 1978.  He chaired Kirkland's development committee and he and his wife's ties to Kirkland were further strengthened by the attendance of two of their daughters at the College.  A faithful alumnus, he continued to take a close and lively interest in Hamilton, generously assisting it in numerous ways, including devoting himself to sustaining the Kirkland College legacy.

It is for tireless advocacy on behalf of Kirkland that we announce today the Chuck Root '40 Kirkland College Lecture, and I can think of no better person to deliver the inaugural lecture than the first and only president of Kirkland College, Sam Babbitt.
 


 

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