Delivered Friday, September 23, 2011, by Alecia A. DeCoudreaux
13th President of Mills College
"Trustees, college presidents and delegates, distinguished guests, members of the Mills community, family, and friends:
On a dusty summer day 140 years ago, Oakland residents witnessed an unusual sight. Through the streets came a procession of young women, carrying furniture, luggage, and other worldly possessions in a kind of impromptu parade.
They were moving from the modest old site in Benicia to a brand-new campus in the Oakland foothills. A student named Luella Clay Carson, who would become our fifth president, described the scene this way:
'They were weary—there is always something to regret in leaving the old. They were longing to see the new home, asking, "how far is it now?" when all at once they crossed the entrance bridge and there it was before them—and it was theirs.'
What was true in 1871 is still true today: one step onto this campus, and it’s love at first sight.
When that class of Mills women arrived here for the first time, these 135 acres became not just their college, but their home. Since then, Mills has been home to thousands of America’s brightest students. Today it becomes my home as well—and I am honored to be here.
At a time and place in which higher education for women was considered almost a contradiction in terms, Susan and Cyrus Mills dreamed of a school that would 'meet local need, but possess a continental standard of excellence.'
The groves of trees that tower over us today were saplings then. But as they took root, matured, and blossomed across the years and generations, so too did this institution.
Thanks to the dedication and persistence of our founders—and all of those supporters who have nurtured and invested in their legacy—Mills now stands among the world’s finest liberal arts colleges.
But of course, we did not get here overnight.
As we look back through the years, we see visionaries in the 1850s, seeking access to higher education for women a full century before many other colleges did the same.
We see forward-thinking Trustees in 1920, deciding that a traditional liberal arts undergraduate college for women would be strengthened by innovative graduate programs for women and men.
We see courageous students, alumnae, faculty, and staff in 1990, standing on principle to keep Mills an undergraduate college for women.
From 1852 until today, we see an endless line of graduates—wearing their class colors of purple, red, green, or blue—marching to accept their diplomas before setting out to 'make the world more.'