Delivered Friday, September 23, 2016, by Elizabeth L. Hillman
14th President of Mills College
I considered the kinds of titles that are common at academic conferences: like “From educating the daughters of missionaries to challenging the gender binary: 164 years of learning on the edge”—true, but clunky.
So I thought about some one-word options: NOW—BOLD—PROUD. But those ring like commands on a military drill field, and fail to convey the external impact and internal transformation that make Mills so compelling to me.
So I settled on a more ordinary five-word, 25-character title: “Why the world needs Mills.”
The world needs Mills because we’ve proven we can change; because a Mills education leaves people different than they were when that education began; and because, given the world we’ve built and inherited, we desperately need those qualities—the ability to evolve and to transform—in both our institutions of higher education and in our selves.
I ask you to join me in thinking for the next few minutes about why the world needs Mills. I’ll raise just three of many good reasons, then close with a note about why I think I belong here.
The first reason the world needs Mills: Because Mills has evolved, adapting to the changing world around us.
There have been many iterations of Mills College. We’ve adapted to meet the demands of each moment in our history. Far from being a constant, Mills has been a variable.
Mills has literally turned things around more than once. Lisser Hall, built as a Greek Revival building, was converted to Spanish colonial style by architect Walter Ratcliff and reversed—so it now faces the opposite direction from its original design, which was oriented toward the College’s then-primary entrance, the now-closed Wetmore Gate.
Other Mills buildings have also been inverted: The Vera M. Long Building for the Social Sciences used to face not toward the center of our current campus, but backward, evident in the gorgeous, tiled entrance is now a little-traveled back door. The Mills College Art Museum was also turned around because of our changing cityscape and campus, as the Oakland streetcar that once dropped patrons at the door stopped running and our campus grew behind the former back of the museum.