IMF chief and Holton alumna Christine Lagarde '74 challenges Class of 2012 to inspire others
Thursday, June 7 opened with blue skies and perfect early summer weather. Seniors, juniors, family, and friends gathered to celebrate the 110th Commencement Exercises at Holton-Arms School and the outstanding achievements of the Class of 2012.
As the Clarion Brass played, the juniors, trustees, faculty, and finally the seniors filed across the Booze Creek Bridge into the Amphitheater. Chair of the Board of Trustees R. Howard Taylor III presided over the ceremony and welcomed the crowd. After a greeting from Head of School Susanna A. Jones, the invocation was delivered by Director of Library Information Services Anna Smink. A veteran commencement speaker, Smink reminded the audience that “our graduates are our best hope for our future.” Members of the Upper School English Handbell Choir, including juniors and seniors, then treated the audience to a beautiful rendition of Johann Pachelbel’s “Canon.”
Amidst great anticipation, Taylor introduced the day’s speaker: Holton alumna and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lalouette Lagarde ’74. After finishing high school in France, Lagarde joined the Class of 1974 through an American Field Service program. Taylor provided a brief timeline of Lagarde’s many extraordinary accomplishments following her graduation from Holton, including becoming the first woman to hold the post of Finance and Economy Minister of a G-7 country and the first woman to manage the IMF. “After all these remarkable achievements, we are happy to say that Mme. Lagarde still has a special place in her heart for Holton,” shared Taylor. “She recently referred to her year here as ‘the most transformational year of her life.’ In particular, the Holton motto—I will find a way or make one—inspired the teenage Lagarde, as it continues to inspire alumni and students around the world today.”
As the applause subsided, the always elegant Lagarde took the podium, saying Commencement was “a very special occasion and…a moment of joy and celebration. It’s a light moment in my days.” Lagarde paid tribute School’s co-founder Jessie Moon Holton, saying that her original mission for the school—the education “not just…of the mind but of the soul and spirit”—spoke to her as well. “My year at Holton back in 1973-74 certainly shaped my education and my spirit more than many other years before and after,” shared Lagarde. “It was clearly a springboard for my young adult life and the journey that has taken me to where I am today with you.”
She went on to joke with the seniors about her own graduation, including remarking on her mother’s disapproval as she “recycled” her white dress (by cutting it progressively shorter). After putting the audience at ease with her lively humor and memorable storytelling, Lagarde turned to the primary themes of her address: change and empowerment. As the world has changed, so too have its challenges. Lagarde urged listeners to “embrace change and make it your own.” To the graduates, she said, “you each have the power to change the way in which the world works…Your education at Holton-Arms empowers you to take that journey and make that change.”
In the final portion of her address, Lagarde spoke about the teachers and mentors who have guided her in life. At Holton, she was particularly moved by history teacher Bob Tupper and French teacher Mary de Pinho. She explained that “the good fortune of having excellent role models can make a profound difference in your life.” She went on to say, “if I encourage you to do one thing as well it’s to be sources of inspiration for other women…You will be inspiring to younger women, friends, sisters, cousins, and people who will walk the journey of life with you.”
Returning to Holton’s roots, Lagarde said that the school’s founders, Holton and Carolyn Hough Arms, “were perhaps the ultimate mentors. They were women ahead of their time. They had a deep and abiding faith in the power of education, the power of women, and the powerful combination of the two: an educated woman.” In closing, Lagarde issued the following challenge to the Class of 2012:
As you being this new journey, I challenge you. Challenge yourselves to keep learning: at college, at work, in life. Challenge yourself to support each other throughout your lives. Challenge yourselves as educated women to be the driving force for change you want to see in the world.
Hold your grounds, stand up for your values, stand up for your principles. You will not be remembered because you are like everybody else. You will be remembered because you are yourself. So please, be yourself…Holton-Arms has empowered you. I have faith in you. Go for it.
After a standing ovation and tumultuous applause, Jones presented Lagarde with thank you gifts, including a Holton plaid tote bag—created by graduating senior Mimi Warner as part of her Senior Project—and a Holton Championship Swimming team jacket, in honor of Lagarde’s history as a swimmer on the French national synchronized swimming team.
Upper School Chorus followed Lagarde’s address with a lovely rendition of “Stay With You,” after which Amanda Jennifer Lee, president of the Class of 2012, took the podium to present the class gift: a sitting swing. Lee explained, “After everything that Holton has done for us, we hope that future classes will use the swing to reflect on their experiences, and appreciate [Holton] as much as we do.”
This creative and spirited class featured “talented singers and musicians, including one of the finest violinists to graduate from Holton, award winning artists and writers, fine athletes including recruited college players, an EMT and three Girl Scout Gold Award recipients,” explained Jones in her presentation of the class. This group of Holton girls brought their humor and enthusiasm to everything that they undertook, from painting the Spirit Rock with seasonal cheer to leading the varsity swim team to their eighth ISL title in nine years to guiding the “It’s Academic” team to the regional finals.
Jones wrapped up her remarks, saying “You are ready to make a difference in the complex and changing world, to become women of influence, like the women who have come before you, including today’s distinguished speaker.”
Congratulations to the Class of 2012!