Every commencement season is cause for celebration, but 2021 brought more relief, excitement, and novelty to the 133rd Mills College Commencement than most of us have ever witnessed. We held our first virtual commencement, complete with a brilliant speech by Alicia Garza, Honorary Doctorate of Letters ’21, and personal touches for the indomitable graduates who earned degrees in the midst of the pandemic that took hold of the world during their final, critical terms of study.
These Mills College graduates warrant special recognition for their ability to adapt, persist, and thrive, and I’m grateful to the many staff and faculty leaders whose stamina and creativity
enabled Mills to plan and execute events to celebrate their extraordinary accomplishments. For the first time, Mills held a “CARmencement” to allow graduates and their families to celebrate in person with masks and distancing. Also, for the first time, two classes of graduates—the Class of 2021 and the Class of 2020—joined us together on two separate days with their families and friends to cheer and take photos at their favorite spots across the Mills campus.
Comparatively, the months immediately prior to May’s Commencement festivities were far from celebratory. At that time, Mills College was teetering as we reckoned with the immediate and potentially challenging impact of the College’s long-term financial instability on our students, faculty, staff, and entire community. I recognize the emotional toll that this reckoning created for our many devoted alumnae and for so many others across the Mills College community. To our great relief and excitement, however, it also catalyzed and created new opportunities for innovation and collaboration with potential institutional partners.
In June, I shared with our community that Mills would pursue a new alliance with Northeastern
University with an announcement linked here (scroll down to June 17, 2021). As we work through the many details and essential nuances of what we expect will be a historic alliance, I am thrilled to report that the congruence between our institutions’ missions and the synergies that emerged from Mills’ very first conversations with Northeastern have allowed us to make great progress. As I described in a July message to the community, this potential alliance will bring many benefits to Mills’ students, faculty, staff, and alumnae, including our ability to sustain Mills’ mission by serving current and future students on campus.
Together, Northeastern and Mills will bring Northeastern’s unmatched excellence in global, experiential education to Mills’ unparalleled commitment to access, women’s leadership, and gender and racial justice. In order to do so, a re-envisioned Mills College at Northeastern University will open its doors to undergraduates of all genders while sustaining Mills’ dedication to gender equity and women’s education. Our alliance with Northeastern will enable Mills to support its current students through their degree programs, bring those students new opportunities, and reimagine graduate and undergraduate programs in ways that engage the deep expertise and pedagogical excellence of Mills faculty and staff. It will also allow Mills alumnae to become part of a global community of impact, to continue their role on campus and in student life, and to know that Mills College will be a degree-granting institution for generations still.
This summer, we also have welcomed another accomplished alumna trustee, designated by the AAMC, to the Mills College Board of Trustees: The Honorable Jacki Brown of the Orange County Superior Court, who is included in this issue’s story about alumna judges. We look forward to working with Judge Brown and all of our dedicated trustees, alumnae, faculty, staff, students, and community members as we link the storied past of Mills with the promise of a new future for Mills College at Northeastern University.