November 2014 Features

In Her Own Words

Herewith, excerpts from President Kim Cassidy’s Inauguration address.


The Valley Forge Highland Band leading the processional.

Usually, the emblems of higher education are associated with athletic prowess. So what is Bryn Mawr’s mascot? An owl. Of course.

But take a closer look at the owl because it is here that we begin to see our strengths. It’s a symbol of wisdom, it has exceptionally sharp vision, and it’s a graceful, yet fierce, skilled bird of prey. And that really does symbolize Bryn Mawr: our commitment to the whole student, including athletics, and our unwavering belief that the liberal arts are the indispensable disciplines for our world—together they weave multiple paths to wisdom.

The liberal arts constitute one of the four main strengths that
define Bryn Mawr—along with our commitment to women’s education, our sense of community, and our pursuit of intellectual rigor and excellence.


If you interact with Bryn Mawr graduates—undergraduates or those from our graduate schools—you are met with the irrefutable evidence that an education based on the study of the liberal arts provides unsurpassed preparation for a fast-paced, interconnected world that requires critical analysis, empirical skills, and creativity—and most important, the capacity to draw on all of these in a wide range of unpredictable circumstances….

Employers are eager to find graduates with these skills, and I would argue that as a society these same traits are critically needed in our citizens.



Board Chair Arlene Joy Gibson ‘65 introduces President Kim Cassidy.

So that trusty owl actually says quite a lot about what we’re about. But it’s not our only symbol. We also have Athena. And why not? A college with a Greek hymn has to have a Greek goddess. It’s noteworthy that we picked Athena. She’s the goddess of wisdom … and military victory—not merely war but battle waged thoughtfully and strategically. In this respect she’s very much like the owl because she embodies our second strength: our conviction that our students can be whoever they want to be and that women’s strength and wisdom are essential to our world.

Athena also is the goddess of craftsmanship, of creativity, and of building, which reminds us that we still have a lot of work to do before women are truly equal in our society and in cultures around the globe.

Our environment seems to find and nurture a quality in Bryn Mawr graduates that is quite special, that practically screams “I can do anything”—in the working world, in communities and in families. It’s a kind of striving, a way in which our graduates connect what they do to meaningful purposes larger than themselves, to live deeply examined lives, without regard to, or in spite of, barriers or conventions.


It’s a small campus, a beautiful campus, and it encourages us to interact. Faculty and students work closely together; and our undergraduate and graduate students form collaborative connections that foster a larger intellectual community. Our students hail from many different kinds of communities of their own, and from all over the world, and come together to help create a vibrant living and learning environment where they can pursue their passions. Bryn Mawr’s dedicated staff are … integrally woven into the social and academic fabric of our campus. Our generous alumnae/i share their experience and accomplishments with our students and with each other, creating powerful networks of support and opportunity—not to mention the best lifelong friendships.

It is important to acknowledge that membership in this community is not always easy and sometimes can even be painful…. And yet our sense of place makes us stick with it. The promise of what we can make Bryn Mawr and our belief in the infinite potential of our community will not let us give up.



Another Cassidy fan, Biology Professor Peter Brodfuehrer.

Bryn Mawr’s fourth major strength [is] captured in a single word I don’t believe you’ll find so prominently in any other college’s mission statement: rigor…. But [rigor] is linked to a larger, more positive aspect of the culture at Bryn Mawr, one that’s important, immersive, and immensely fulfilling: a culture of intellectual curiosity and engagement. Graduate and undergraduate students have the opportunity to learn in a community of smart students who are passionate about learning without having to hide or worry about how they are regarded. They are expected to succeed, and we value the exchange of ideas, the promise of diverse opinions and transformative encounters.

Rigor is not a value in and of itself, but it is the pathway to the trait that defines this college—our abiding commitment to academic excellence.


But we also inhabit a landscape replete with challenges—of cost, of the perceived value of a liberal arts education, of disruptive technologies, of social inequality, and the loss of public confidence….

So the Greek hymns and the Welsh names didn’t send me packing, but did these more serious challenges make me think twice? Not for a moment. I am standing here because Bryn Mawr is in a position not only to cope with this environment but to thrive in it.

I am optimistic because we understand our core strengths and we will be unwavering in our commitment to them…. We know who we are and what we do well. And that allows us not to be threatened by a changing landscape but rather to have the flexibility, the confidence, and the spirit of innovation necessary to imagine the liberal arts in a time of exploding information technology; unparalleled global connectivity; and social, political, and economic uncertainty.



Sophomore class presidents Aleja Newman ‘17 and Odeymarys Garrido ‘17.

As we take stock of what we do, we also must communicate our outcomes in a way that is new for us: loud and proud. This is one area where Bryn Mawr’s culture of modesty does not serve us well…. We will continue to let our actions and accomplishments communicate volumes about us, but we must not be afraid to speak boldly about our excellence. As a community of students, faculty, staff, alumnae/i, parents, and friends of the College we must get the word out about what we do, how well we do it, and why it’s so important. We will be graceful, but we will not be quiet.


So let us end on that note: Let us take every opportunity to inject creativity and joy into what we do, to counter the pressures of perfectionism, to help our students’ intellects and imaginations flourish, and to let excitement and discovery thrive—to the betterment of us all and to the world our graduates will help transform.


Hear President Cassidy’s speech in its entirety.

Photographs by Jim Roese.