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Spelman College

A Thank You From Mary Schmidt Campbell, Ph.D.

Thank you, Spelman!

Growing up in Philadelphia, I always loved sitting on my front porch. So, it is no wonder that I immediately fell in love with the front porch of Reynolds Cottage, the president’s residence. Like sitting on my porch in West Philly, at Reynolds, I enjoyed a panoramic view of the comings and goings of my community.

Spelman. My community. My family. My home for the past seven years. Now retired, I recall watching from the front porch students, faculty and staff —  some of the people who make Spelman so remarkable, and I give thanks.

Students crossing campus

I give thanks for the early mornings Dr. George and I breakfasted on the porch, watching students striding the campus, books in arms, on their way to class. We often remarked how purposefully they made their way across campus, carrying faith, hope and determination, along with their books. In seven years, I learned that many students succeeded at Spelman despite insuperable barriers. I learned that families often make great sacrifices to send their talented students to Spelman.

STEM student and faculty Those aspirations and the will to succeed find their way to classrooms filled with extraordinary Spelman faculty. I came to learn that our faculty are experts in creating pedagogies that, along with their high expectations and demand for excellence, found ways to harness the determination of those students. They are experts in knowing how to lift and challenge them in equal measure and to create among our students' communities of learning. I give thanks to every one of the Spelman faculty whose contributions to the College and to individual students are immeasurable.

Class of 2022 Founders Day
Founders Day 2022

Celebrating Traditions

2022 Founders Day from porch
Sitting on the Reynolds’ porch, Dr. George and I often reveled in the beauty of the College’s stately traditions: Founders Day, March Through the Arch and Baccalaureate. Founders Day was a special favorite.

To watch long lines of Black women — graduating seniors with their academic regalia fluttering in the wind as they processed to Sisters Chapel, was to witness the fruits of their faith, hope and determination in full bloom. To watch the first year in white attire follow was to witness hope in motion. In four years, they would stand where their Senior Sisters now stood.

March Through the Arch Class of 2022

Class Day and the March Through the Arch was another favorite. Spelman alumnae, dressed in white, on campus for reunion weekend, marched through the arch, starting with the oldest class. Once the alumnae marched, the seniors in their regalia followed, greeted by their sisters on the other side. To see that was to feel the power of the alumnae lineage, a legacy that has extended unbroken over the past 141 years. For the privilege of being part of a college that so eloquently honors generational hope, I am grateful.

Honoring our Historic Beginnings

archival classroom image
First High School Graduates of Spelman Seminary 1887

Who would have thought in 1881 that the classroom in the sooty basement of Friendship Baptist Church would “stick”? That is what Spelman’s first major patron, John D. Rockefeller asked of the founders, Sophia B. Packard and Harriet E. Giles. Will it stick? The founders believed that Spelman would not only stick but be “second to none.” Rockefeller’s investments led to the naming of the school for the familyof his wife, Laura Spelman Rockefeller and, over the lifetime of the College, gifts, large and small, came from women and men, young and old in Atlanta and all over the country. Those gifts helped ensure that what began as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary and ultimately became Spelman College would “stick.” For their belief in our mission and their support of our students, I am most grateful to all of our donors and friends who have given so generously to a capital campaign that far exceeded our ambitious goals and did so in record time.

Remembering a Resilient Community 

COVID was a blow. The toll it took is still not completely known, but I do know this: As the world was forced to shelter in place, every day the women and men of Spelman never stopped. Every morning, when our campus was bereft of students, Dr. George and I would go out on the porch and watch Spelman persevere. Even before we sat down to breakfast in the mornings, we could hear the grounds crew cutting grass and trimming shrubs. Every day we watched facilities and maintenance crews laboring in one building or another, or we waved good morning to the switchboard operator or members of the cleaning staff. Every day the mail center staff sorted and delivered mail and public safety, vigilantly, kept watch over the campus.

Public Safety and President Campbell

Spelman College Facilities Management

Facilities Management Staff

Invisible to us were countless others. Beyond the porch, Spelman kept working. Faculty kept teaching, while our deans kept providing academic advice. Our healthcare counselors responded to more students seeking help for mental distress. Though they did not come to work in person, our financial aid counselors were still helping students find ways to keep going; advancement kept powering forward, and admissions grew even busier. Purchasing was still at work, budgets and contracts kept us financially sound while the endowment office took the endowment to new highs. STS became the heartbeat of our community, ever more critical to keeping a campus working remotely connected as a community. I cannot thank all of you enough. And our energetic communications team kept us connected as a community.

President Campbell with Students

Some people say you don’t really get to know someone until you see them through a crisis. During the COVID crisis, I really got to know Spelman. This is a community that rises to the occasion and rises with compassion. This is a community that, like the students we serve, when faced with seemingly insurmountable barriers, can marshal unfathomable reserves of resolve and faith. Resolve and faith enabled Spelman to continue to offer a liberal arts education, second to none, even as we took the time to look after each other and care for each other.

Treasuring a Supportive Network 

During our last days on the Reynolds’ porch, Dr. George and I often reminisced about the past seven years. There are any number of accomplishments that give me great pride, but what I will remember most about Spelman is the sense that this is my community, my family, my home. I give thanks to the wisdom, dedication to Spelman, and the generosity of the Spelman College Board of Trustees. How lucky I was to benefit from the leadership of a magnificent board chair in the person of Roz Brewer, C’84, CEO of Walgreen’s Boots Alliance. She led a board of trustees that never once waivered in its devotion to the College. Their excellence is matched only by the best senior leadership team a college president could ever want. Arm in arm, shoulder to shoulder, we walked many a bridge over troubled waters and, with the mighty teams that each senior team member led, propelled the College to new heights.

Board of Trustees 2022

Senior Team Members

Last but certainly not least, I have had the good fortune to work with a President’s Office team that is as caring as it is demanding of excellence, as patient and meticulous as they are warm and hospitable. They have been invaluable. The board, the senior team, their respective teams, the office of the president — all have my deepest appreciation.

President's Office Staff

Passing the Baton to a Brilliant Leader With a Clear Path Forward

Spelman College's New President Dr. Helene Gayle

On June 30, 2022, I will hand the keys to Reynolds Cottage to Spelman’s extraordinary 11th president, Dr. Helene Gayle. A gifted leader, an accomplished scholar, medical doctor, humanitarian and philanthropist, Dr. Gayle will find new pathways to take Spelman even higher.

Dr. Gayle, may you have a fruitful tenure. May you and your spouse, Dr. Steven Keith, derive similar pleasure and inspiration from sitting on the front porch of Reynolds Cottage.

To all, once again, the entire Campbell family is grateful.

Keep the faith,

Mary Schmidt Campbell

The Campbell Family will Always Be a Spelman College Family

Campbell's on the front porch

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