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Spelman College

Speeches and Writings

When and Where I Enter

August 8, 2015:  New Student Orientation Address, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.

Only the Black woman can say, “When and where I enter, in the quiet undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence, and without suing, or special patronage, then and there, the whole Negro race enters with me.”

Good evening, my radiantly brilliant Black sisters. Welcome to Spelman College. Welcome to Sisters Chapel. Welcome to the “When and Where I Enter” ceremony, which takes its name from the words I just read by a Black woman, Anna Julia Cooper, delivered at the end of the 19th century. 

I will talk more about this incredible woman, but now I’m going to take a moment to speak to your parents, friends and loved ones who brought you to campus today.

Parents, friends, loved ones it’s been a long day, hasn’t it? 

I know that some of you drove for hours from all over the country to bring these magnificent women to campus, your cars loaded with books and computers, desk lamps and rugs and clothes, photos and posters. 

You’ve come from great distances.

You drove to Atlanta from:
Kansas City, Missouri, and Bessemer City, North Carolina
Shaker Heights, Ohio, Capitol Heights, Maryland
Peachtree City, Georgia, Phenix City, Alabama, and
Phoenix, Arizona

You hail from:   
Harbor City, California, Missouri City, Texas,
Michigan City, Indiana, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma,
New Haven, Connecticut, Newport News, Virginia,
Libertyville, Ill, Fayetteville, North Carolina,
Olive Branch, Mississippi, Cedar Rapids, Iowa,
Delray Beach, Florida, Howard Beach, New York.

You traveled from:
Rancho Cucamonga, California, Rio Rancho New Mexico,
Lawrence Township, New Jersey, Clinton Township, Michigan,
Jacksonville, North Carolina, Wildersville, Tennessee,
Stone Mountain Georgia, Little Rock, Arkansas
Elizabethtown, Kentucky, Tacoma Washington,
Wilmington Delaware, and Portland, Oregon,

You come from the neighborhoods of Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, Milwaukee,
Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Detroit, Nashville, Chicago, Birmingham, Oakland,
Washington, DC, Baltimore, Charlotte, Buffalo, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Kenya and

Parents and loved ones, for years, you have been preparing for this day when you would bring your precious daughters to the Lee Street gates of Spelman College.  
In addition to the books and clothes, you have brought with you your faith in your daughters’ futures, your high expectations for what they will become and a lifetime of unconditional love.

May I ask you to stand so that we can salute you this evening?

The Beginning: When and Where You Enter Spelman

This is the When and Where I Enter Ceremony

As I noted, we take the name of this ceremony from the words of Anna Julia Cooper. She was born into slavery in 1858.

When freedom came, she thought long and hard about what freedom meant.  
To read her writings is to learn of a former slave who was acutely conscious that her body had been owned by someone else.  Freedom for Cooper meant gaining title to your body and mind and literally taking ownership over your mind, your body, your life.

Coming into her newfound freedom, Anna Julia Cooper understood that in order to assume that proprietorship over herself, education was imperative.

In her lifetime, she earned a bachelors and a master’s degree in mathematics from Oberlin College and, at the age of 67, viewing herself a citizen of the world, pursued and earned a doctorate in history from the Sorbonne at the University of Paris.

In her lifetime, this former slave was an internationally recognized scholar, lecturer, teacher, wife, a mother to five adopted children, and an outspoken advocate and activist who fought for the full rights of citizenship for her race. She died in 1964, in the middle of the Civil Rights Movement, at the age of 105.

One hundred years ago, this fierce Black woman understood the power of a liberal arts education, the power of opening your mind to new ideas, allowing those ideas to violate some of your long held assumptions. She understood the power of listening to voices of wisdom from other times, other cultures, other places.

She recognized the power of engaging in the clash and disruption of intellectual debate.

She was willing to spend the long hours required for mastering two disciplines. She allowed herself the freedom to be creative, to take risks, make mistakes, to explore new ways of thinking. She understood the need to be fearless—to board that ship to France—to step outside of your comfort zone, to challenge yourself with what you don’t know. A liberal arts education allowed Anna Julia Cooper having stepped out of slavery to imagine a new kind of Black woman for the 20th century, and to invent a kind of Black woman that the world had not yet seen.

That’s what a liberal arts education did for Anna Julia Cooper over 100 years ago. That’s what a liberal arts education at Spelman College can do for you in the 21st century.

Undisputed Dignity of Womanhood

August 8, 2015. This is your time and Spelman College is your place designed and built exclusively for you to enter into the “undisputed dignity of your womanhood.” Spelman’s history is impressive. Its founders were two white women, Baptist missionaries—Sofia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles teachers, who came to Atlanta from New Salem, Massachusetts, and, with  $100 in hand, started what would become Spelman College in the basement of Friendship Baptist Church. Every time I pass by Harriet B. Giles’ bed on the second floor of Reynolds Cottage, the president’s residence, I am reminded of the determination and willfulness of Spelman’s founders.

That determination and willfulness is their legacy to you. 

It’s not just history that makes Spelman impressive. It’s the here and now, the people. The people you will encounter at Spelman today are absolutely devoted to Spelman’s mission. From the moment you set foot on campus you see and feel that devotion everywhere: from the student PALS (Peer Assistant Leaders) who cheered you as your cars pulled into the parking lot, to the Public Safety officers, to the administrators in the Registrar’s Office, to your deans and directors who counsel and guide you to the alumnae and parents who volunteer countless hours at Spelman events.

When you start classes, you will see that unflagging commitment to you in the faculty who teach and challenge you to new heights, inside the classroom and out.

You will find that every single person on this campus is dedicated to your success. Whatever is your aspiration – research scientist, physician, economist, creative entrepreneur, teacher, social justice advocate, actor, digital media expert, or some combination of the above – everyone on this campus is devoted to helping you succeed.

An Incredible Voyage

As your president, you and I have a special bond: we are both starting out new. So, I want to make a special pact with the class of 2019. I want you to promise me that each and every one of you who is sitting in front of me now will be sitting in front of me at the 2019 commencement – your degree in your hand – ready to take on the world. Is that a promise?

My brilliant Spelman sisters, you are about to embark on an incredible voyage and it’s fitting that we launch from this beautiful Sisters Chapel, the spiritual heart of our campus. This sacred space reminds us of the devotion that will wrap its arms around you during this voyage. That devotion comes not only from the adults in your community, but from your fellow students. The sophomores, juniors and seniors at Spelman are not just women; they are truly your sisters. They will help you succeed academically.  They will be there to mentor you. They will help you learn the enduring Spelman traditions, the ties that bind you not only to each other, but to those who came before you and those who will come after.

When and where I enter:
The date, August 8, 2015, is the when of your entrance.
This is your time.
Spelman College is the where
This is your place.

It is here at Spelman that you will begin your entrance into the undisputed dignity of your womanhood. It is here that you will invent a new Black woman for the 21st century - and it is here that you will do that in ways the world cannot even begin to imagine. 

Welcome to Spelman College.