Founders’ Day Reflection

On behalf of the Meredith College Alumnae Association, happy Founders’ Day! Today Meredith College turns 121.

Empowered, world-class, results-oriented, inquisitive, compassionate.

These are words used to describe the Meredith graduate of today, yet they could just as easily been used to describe our first graduating class of 1902, better known to us as the Immortal Ten.

Indeed, when our founder, Thomas Meredith, called for “an institution to provide a first-rate course of female education,” surely he had each of these superlatives in mind.

And yet, I suspect Thomas Meredith had no idea what this institution would become in the years ahead, both to its graduates and to the wider world.  In the intervening years since its founding, Meredith graduates have become doctors, attorneys, teachers, ministers, led major scientific research projects, provided judicial leadership in our state and beyond, and sown the seeds of major philanthropy, both at our institution and across our country.

While he may not have recognized the heights our graduates have accomplished, he did recognize, from its earliest beginnings, that the purpose of an education is not merely to advance the economic self-interest of its graduates. The people of North Carolina, as much if not more than the people of any other State, have supported their colleges and universities and their schools because they recognize how important it is to the health of a free society that its citizens be well educated.

We also recognize that while life at Meredith may seem insular to us when are her students, we must realize that we are part of a larger ecosystem that depends upon our ability to channel our education and intellect to the greater good.  Because, our College has been operating for 121 years.  It stretches beyond our own lifetimes.  Most of us mere mortals think in terms of the one lifetime we inhabit now, but institutions like Meredith are longer-lived than we.  They carry on after we are gone; educating and inspiring students to achieve greater heights than we.  For the opportunity to seek those greater achievements, we salute our founder Thomas Meredith and the Immortal Ten today.

Many of us remember a quieter Meredith in years gone by.  But Meredith is today launching new efforts to intensify its public presence and more prominently claiming the public’s attention. Some time ago, I realized Meredith is far too shy and reserved about telling its story. But we realize that we must confront the public so it knows how important Meredith is to this community, the state, the region, and to the nation. Almost every state has at least one strong, private-non-government college that contributes to the quality of life, to choice among the college-going public, while having a significant role in the state’s livelihood. Clearly, Meredith is one such college for North Carolina.  In the months and years ahead, you should notice Meredith becoming more prominent in media coverage, and in the public visage.

After all, WE must continue the legacy of “and institution to provide a first-rate course of female education” as Thomas Meredith said back in 1838.  How true those words are …

As we look at education in general and women’s education in particular, we see that graduates of women’s colleges tend to be remarkable achievers. According to studies gathered by the Women’s College Coalition, women attending such colleges tend to:

  • Participate more fully in and out of class.
  • Report greater satisfaction than their coed counterparts with their college experience in almost all measures—academically, developmentally, and personally.
  • Develop measurably higher levels of self-esteem than other achieving women in coeducational institutions. (After two years in coeducational institutions, women have been shown to have lower levels of self-esteem than when they entered college.)
  • Choose traditionally male disciplines, like the sciences, as their academic majors, in greater numbers, and continue toward doctorates in math, science and engineering in disproportionately large numbers.
  • Have more opportunities to hold leadership positions at college and are able to observe women functioning in top jobs (90 percent of the presidents and 55 percent of the faculty are women).
  • Be more likely to graduate.
  • Become more successful in careers; that is, they tend to hold higher positions, are happier, and earn more money.
  • Be more involved in philanthropic activities after college.

Meredith is no exception to any of these statistics.

Our founding constitutes the express wish of one person who realized that the education of women leads to the well-being of all society.

Today we honor our founder, the Immortal Ten and all graduates, faculty and staff who come together, as one, to embody an institution we hold dear.  I thank you all.

– Elizabeth Dove, ’84, President, Meredith College Alumnae Association

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