Investiture Speeches

James C. Bean ’77, Chair of the Board of Trustees

On behalf of the Board of Trustees of Harvey Mudd College, let me extend a warm welcome to all members of the Harvey Mudd College and Claremont community, including faculty, staff, students, alumni, families, friends, Claremont city representatives, fellow trustees as well as college and university delegates who have come here to share in this historic occasion with us.

Dr. Nembhard comes to Harvey Mudd, bringing a depth of experience in teaching, scholarship, administration, mentorship and leadership. She is a nationally recognized leader in the field of industrial and operations engineering.

Dr. Nembhard previously served as the dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Iowa where she led initiatives in strategic planning and implementation, improving the college’s research profile and increasing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. She is a voice on the national level for transforming undergraduate STEM education.

Dr. Nembhard studied management engineering at Claremont McKenna College and industrial engineering at Arizona State University, before attaining her PhD in industrial and operations engineering at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Nembhard’s appointment as Harvey Mudd College’s sixth president marks the first time in the College’s history that HMC has been led by a graduate of a member institution of The Claremont Colleges.

Dr. Nembhard is joined in Claremont by her talented husband and professor of engineering, David Nembhard, and they have three daughters-Olivia, Naomi and Charlotte, and a grandson Kai. We will hear from David and Naomi later in the program. We proudly welcome the entire Nembhard family into the Harvey Mudd College Community. As we begin our program, I am pleased to welcome the Willard W. Keith Jr. Fellow in the Humanities and Associate Professor of Religious Studies Erika Dyson to the podium.

Erika Dyson, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Willard W. Keith Jr. Fellow in the Humanities

today, a benediction and an invitation
a blessing and a call
To our community,
whether you are long part of it,
maybe even long in the tooth,
or whether you are new to it
or new-ish,
and you may still be reveling
in the many satisfactions to be found
in learning about—and from—
the eclectic collection of humans
that populate Mudd.
Humans who are occasionally uncompromising
in their foibles,
but incomparably generous
with their intelligence,
their humor, and their grace—and they, like I,
claim you as one of our own,
and are eager to learn from you,
and to be changed by you.
In this spirit,
welcome to our new president, Harriet Nembhard
and to our new colleague, David Nembhard.
May our work together in this next cycle of our coming together
prove us “worthy of special endeavors,”
as our most worthy and beloved Iris Critchell
has described the students of mudd.
May we do the difficult work of community,
of interconnectedness,
of mutual responsiveness and responsibility,
of holding each other accountable to our best selves,
our most innovative, creative and vital ideas,
our deepest connections to justice,
our riskiest,
but possibly most promising,
interventions into the systems
that limit human thriving.
And may our ancestral Mudders,
perhaps Joe Platt and J. Arthur Campbell,
busily notating some great lab notebook in the sky,
pause to lend us their wisdom and strength,
whispering to us algorithms or aphorisms,
whatever is necessary to keep us going
when it seems that our efforts are not–yet–
sufficient to create the change we want to see.

Kathy French ’97, President, Alumni Association Board of Governors

Good morning. I am honored as the president of our Alumni Association Board of Governors to be here on behalf of the near 8,000 alumni of Harvey Mudd College to welcome all our special guests, the delegates honoring us with their representation of their alma maters, President Strauss, President Klawe, the students, faculty, staff, trustees, my fellow alumni, the Nembhard family and President Nembhard. 

Back on Sept. 26, 1957, as Harvey Mudd College formally opened its first academic year, President Joseph Platt invited those in attendance to consider the year 2000 and what they might behold. He then charged the assembled group that the responsibility belonged to each of them: “The future of Harvey Mudd College is what we make of it.” President Platt, the initial faculty, staff, trustees and those early students embraced his challenge guided by the vision of our mission paraphrased as educating students in all forms of STEM as well as humanities, social sciences and the arts to create leaders who have a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society. Those early students went all in trying to meet President Platt’s challenge. Each cohort has continued to inculcate the deep dedication to our mission and using the time at Mudd to build a broad foundation as a means to try to tackle each individual’s vision of what they would behold decades into the future and how to positively impact it. 

Today’s events formalize passing our leadership torch amidst an ever more complex atmosphere.  While President Platt had no way of envisioning the specific challenges and opportunities ahead of us today or 43 years into our future, he correctly identified that it “is what we make of it.” I am in awe of the incredible group of people assembled to help President Nembhard begin launching her vision for the future of Harvey Mudd College.

Thank you all for coming and sharing with we alumni in continuing to make Harvey Mudd College a leader in undergraduate education.

Hiram E. Chodosh, President, Claremont McKenna College

Our feet set firmly in the ground of this fertile valley. Soaked in the sweat, wrapped in the hopes of our ancestors. Our Claremont Colleges: a rich, red, gold compost of old stories, poems, and books, penciled answers, etched in the stone of mind-twisting problem sets, cracked codes of insolvable calculations and projections.

Our arms push through the walls of any space that confines us beyond the limits of what we know our reach pierces the ceilings of our cramped, shingled expectations. Our eyes set on new horizons, honoring all who led us here. We see through the storms, the moon lights our path through dark days. Stars point the way to our dreams.

Even those dashed or deferred in the past move us again today. Historic, because today, we give formal expression to the inauguration of President Harriet Nembhard of Harvey Mudd College: our fifth college in The Claremont Colleges.

We are not just a mere consortium of separate institutions. We are a family, siblings who have grown out of one another, charging forward in shared purpose. The younger schools were cradled, nurtured by the others before they walked, ran, sprinted on their own. Today, for the second time this year, we celebrate the inauguration of a president who is one of our own.

The inauguration of, a prominent alumna, a graduate of the 3/2 program at Claremont McKenna College, who also served on our Board of Trustees, an outstanding dean and national leader in engineering education; and now the leader of the world’s best liberal arts college for science, math and engineering.

This is a proud moment for each of us, all of us. Not just in a point reached, but for the road not yet mapped. This is not only because Harriet’s leadership emerged from within our own home. It is what she now brings to our table; her special capabilities that will lead us forward: an unwavering dedication to learning: from her great grandmother, a one-room school house teacher and her grandmother, who taught for forty years in the public schools of Atlanta.

The precociousness of a 16-year-old high school graduate with the courage to join Claremont McKenna College’s 3/2 program. The fresh perspectives and diverse experience of a young academic leader at Penn State, Oregon State and Iowa. The power of a profoundly integral mind, learned at the highest level the intersecting STEM and liberal arts of our Claremont family tree.

A clarity of purpose, drawn from personal experience and her parents to break down barriers and expand opportunities for this next great generation, a mission she drives through every moment. An open, curious mind that questions how things are done and why, so that we can all find a better way. A generous, loving heart always focused on the wellbeing of those around her, especially her incredible, beautiful, brilliant family: husband, David, three daughters, Olivia, Naomi, and Charlotte, and grandson, Kai.

A loyal friend who supports us unconditionally and challenges us to be better. A special combination of wisdom from experience, curiosity from global exploration and joy in the arts. A soul that will not be crushed by the demands of leadership in our demanding arena. The deepest personal commitment to innovation: collaborative, creative problem-solving to improve our human condition.

The personification of the best of Harvey Mudd, the best in all of us. A singular combination of qualities that will take each of us, all of us, to new places we have not yet imagined.

This is Harriet Nembhard. This is our Claremont sister. This is Harvey Mudd’s new president. This is why we are so excited, honored, moved, hopeful, energized and purposeful today.

Please join me in welcoming Harriet home. Please join me in congratulating her, Harvey Mudd, The Claremont Colleges, all of you here today, on her inspired appointment. Please join me as we take off to fly with her, wherever she leads.

Thank you.

Susan Martonosi, Chair of the Faculty and Professor of Mathematics

It is my honor to make a few remarks, on behalf of the faculty of Harvey Mudd College, at this celebration of President Nembhard investiture.

“Propelling Innovation” is an apt theme for Harvey Mudd College. Harvey Mudd has been innovative since its founding, challenging the norms of STEM higher education, from its mission statement and groundbreaking Clinic program, to the Hixon Center and myriad pedagogical innovations that our dedicated faculty have introduced over the decades.

But even more so, “Propelling Innovation” is particularly apt for this moment in history.

The world is on the brink of catastrophic climate change.

Generative AI has rich potential to better the human experience, while it simultaneously threatens our national security and our democracy.

Political polarization casts shadows on scholarly inquiry and scientific reasoning.

Technological innovation has led to rich and sophisticated advances intertwined with complex, unintended consequences that threaten our very existence.

Technical solutions cannot, on their own, solve these human problems.

The world needs Harvey Mudd College. But not the Harvey Mudd of yesterday or even of today; the world needs the Harvey Mudd College of tomorrow.

The world needs Harvey Mudd to continue to propel innovation as it always has.

To continue to transform STEM undergraduate education and serve as a model to other colleges and universities.

To conduct high-impact scholarship that expands human understanding of our world and how best to ethically impact it.

To launch our graduates into this messy world we collectively have created, equipped, both technically and socially, to change it for the better.

As we stand on the precipice of our future, we are fortunate to have in President Harriet B. Nembhard a leader who is prepared to leverage Harvey Mudd College’s fine tradition of innovation to propel us forward. To help us achieve our mission and our potential.

We, the faculty, stand with you to shape the next chapter of Harvey Mudd College. Welcome, Harriet.

Laura Palucki Blake, Assistant Vice President of Institutional Research and Effectiveness

My name is Laura Palucki Blake, and I work in the Office of Institutional Research and Effectiveness at Harvey Mudd College. It is an honor to be a part of this moment in Harvey Mudd College’s history, and on behalf of the staff, to welcome President Harriet Nembhard, her friends and her family to the Harvey Mudd community.

President Nembhard’s presence—her words and her leadership—are supported by preparation, curiosity and care—three critical pillars that fill me with hope for Harvey Mudd College. Throughout the course of her career, she has demonstrated the courage to engage in challenging conversations and make difficult decisions while simultaneously exuding the joy, warmth and wonder that is required to lead an institution like ours with empathy and integrity.

As a member of the search committee, I can remember very clearly meeting President Nembhard early in the process. I was struck by the fact that in putting herself forward for the role of president, it was not as if she raised her hand to say, “pick me, pick me.”  It was more like she outstretched her hand to say, “here is who I am and here is what we might create together.”  

That has stayed with me, because like so many people here today, I delight not only in the education we provide at HMC, but in the community of scholars, athletes, artists, researchers, makers, entrepreneurs, inventors, foodies, activists and pranksters that make this place so special. As important as it is to take pride in who we are now, I also revel in the individuals and community we will become under your leadership.

Is it an easy time to be in higher education? It is not. But at Harvey Mudd, we are not easily distracted from our purpose, because we know that the world needs the inventions and solutions that we design together. The innovations and interventions born here at Mudd hold the promise of improving people’s lives, lifting up our communities, and making our world better for those who will inherit it.

The experiences, backgrounds, perspectives and enthusiasm that the staff bring to Harvey Mudd every day are incredible assets in this endeavor. We know we are better when we come together to learn, to grow and to thrive. In our differences, we find great potential. We are looking forward to working with you, President Nembhard, to build bridges, strengthen our connections, learn from one another and work together to build a strong and inclusive community.

President Nembhard, your presence here today signals a fresh start, a new era and a commitment to the College that we all love. On behalf of the entire staff, welcome to HMC. We embrace the journey forward and the positive impact we will make together.

Thank you, and welcome President Nembhard.

Kayleah Tsai ’24, President, Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College and Henry Hammer ’24, Senate Chair, Associated Students of Harvey Mudd College

Henry: Today we are serving as representatives of the student body. Like many of the other speeches you will hear today, we are here to raise up the wonderful work of  President Harriet in her recent time at Harvey Mudd College.

Kayleah:  In writing this speech, Henry and I were reflecting on our experience with President Harriet over the course of this year. After considering our consistent collaboration with the president, one story in particular came to mind. Henry and I were fortunate enough to attend a weekend at the Saddlerock retreat in Palm Springs with the president. During an evening activity, President Harriet noticed that one of the students appeared to be cold in the chilly desert air. Without a word, she retrieved one of the Harvey Mudd embroidered throw blankets for the student and placed it around his shoulders. Not only that, but President Harriet insisted on wrapping a blanket around herself as well so that the student did not feel out of place at the formal function. This small act really stuck out to us as students. This anecdote speaks to President Harriet’s kindness, foresight and compassion but it also emphasizes the fact that she is one of us and will go through all the trials and triumphs with the entire Mudd community.

President Harriet has been such a joy to have on campus. She is a kind leader, who really takes the time to stop and acknowledge everyone on campus, making them feel valued. From the meetings where she commented on our matching Converse shoes, to the club fair, where she stopped at various student booths, President Harriet’s warm smile and laughter bring light to others’ lives.

Henry: In her short time at Harvey Mudd, she has already proven invaluable to our practice of shared governance as Mudd student body presidents. One reason that President Harriet has joined us at Mudd so seamlessly is that she is no stranger to the Claremont Colleges, having attended Claremont McKenna for undergrad. This experience has already proved valuable, as when we reached out to President Harriet to ask for suggestions on improving Harvey Mudd’s room draw system for our youngest students, she advised that we look to our fellow colleges. This guidance proved valuable, as it not only led to a new room retention system modeled after CMC’s similar policy, but also inspired us to join our fellow 5C student presidents in bringing back strong intercollegiate collaboration.

On a more personal note, President Harriet has been an invaluable resource to us as rising leaders. She has taught us the difference between choosing the correct option and the right option and how to always lead with kindness and empathy. We have taken many of her words to heart and continue to look to her as a role model for excellent leadership.

Kayleah: We wish we could be on campus to continue to see her thrive and bring the college to new successes. We ask that even when Henry and I graduate, this community takes a page out of President Harriet’s book, and wraps her into the Mudd blanket of support for years to come. We will continue to watch and applaud her triumphs on campus through the news and alumni relations because we have much hope for the future of the college under her leadership.

Thank you.

Laura Larson P’20, Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees

I am honored to be here today, to celebrate the inauguration of Harriet Nembhard as the 6th president of Harvey Mudd College.

When I joined the board, my daughter was a student. Often while visiting with her friends,  someone would ask me, ‘what exactly do the trustees do?’ Quickly gauging the interest of the group–I kept it brief:  We are responsible for the budget, we oversee the president, and when the time comes, we’re responsible for hiring a new president.

It is the rarest, yet probably the most important role, any college trustee can serve. Aside from the enormous never-ending task of leading the day-to-day operations of the college, our president must also be the one to help us dream the big dreams. To ask the questions and build the connections that will take us all into a future we might not even be able to see from our own perspective.

Knowing all this—I was both honored and daunted by the task ahead. Who am I to have a say?  How do I know what is important or how to evaluate? I was beginning to feel like a Mudd student plunked into their first engineering design course, wondering, am I the weak link on the team?  How can I be sure not to let everyone else down.

As soon as our presidential search meetings started, I felt better. Ah I realized, there are people from ALL over campus: students, faculty, staff, alums and  other trustees. So many smart and incredibly passionate and invested people-we’ll all put our heads together and solve this puzzle easily.

But, as anyone who has ever been on a team knows, no one sees a problem or a solution quite the same way. Maybe you all agree it’s a nail…but what kind of hammer do you really need? Or maybe where I see a nail, you see a joint that needs reimagining?

The work began with all of us reviewing a long list of potential candidates. I remember Harriet from that very first look. Wow, she’s from CMC. How amazing would that be to have someone from our very own community.  She had an incredible resume, and Jim Bean, our board chair knew and had worked with her. She was clearly someone I wanted to learn more about and obviously I was not alone.

Yet, as impressive as Harriet was, Harvey Mudd’s reputation had gifted us with a long list of extremely qualified candidates. How would we choose?

I found it is such a joy to solve a problem with a group of people from this community. Each candidate was listened to so carefully and with so much authentic interest and deep respect for the extraordinary path which would bring them to this opportunity. As Individuals, we carried our opinions with an openness and a lightness, unburdened from the need to be right-but the conviction that together we would find the right answer. And that everyone here-will have the weight and value of the mission deeply held, providing a clear and unwavering clarity of purpose. And through that focusing lens, together our many perspectives became one clear decision.

When Harriet arrived on campus, she blew us all away. There was no group she met with, no person she spoke with left untouched by her preparedness, her thoughtful answers, and her clear desire to authentically connect to every person she met that day. We were all deeply impressed that such accomplishment might also come with so much kindness. With our hearts and our heads, you were the clear choice for us Harriet.

Welcome to Harvey Mudd President Nembhard, where together we will dream big dreams and work to prepare for a better, and I think, kinder world. You may be a graduate of our sister college, but we saw in you that which we have come to love and respect in each other and forever forward embrace you as a member of our special Mudd community.

Jil Stark, Former first lady of Claremont McKenna College 1970–1999

I was invited to speak at this auspicious occasion, because the honoree has made me her ‘mom’ in Claremont. But before I become motherly, I want you and President Nembhard to know that  in  September 1957, I was one of a group of the three student body presidents at the Claremont Colleges to welcome this first class of Harvey Mudd students into our group. There were 47 Harvey Mudd students that September and one woman, Jennie Rhine. Jennie lived at Scripps, the men were housed at Harvey Mudd, but classes were held at Claremont Men’s College, Harvey Mudd College joined the CMC admission office, and the 46 gentlemen ate at CMC. It is so appropriate that the sixth president of Harvey Mudd College graduated from CMC, whose first president, in 1955 when Harvey Mudd was founded, was George C.S. Benson, who was the key supporter of Joe Platt becoming Harvey Mudd’s first President. On top of all this, I was a sitter for Beth Platt, just a baby and Ann, a young lady of about nine, during my senior year at Scripps.

Now to the Motherly part. Does everyone want to know why my “daughter” Harriet smiles all the time? Why is she so happy? Being a college president in Claremont is not like being the president of a big corporation or a huge university. It is fun to be president of a small college in a consortium of colleges. It is a dream job. Here are three reasons why this Harvey Mudd president smiles.

The first reason is students. Can you just imagine being the leader of a group of the most talented and brightest students in the world? I am not just talking about SAT or ACT scores, I am talking about students who will become alums and do amazing work to change this world in so many ways. You are the president of these unreal young people and there is plenty to smile about.

Next comes the faculty. You are smiling because you have a team of outstanding faculty, who easily could be teaching at the leading universities in America, but your faculty really value teaching undergraduates at a small distinct college. Your faculty can provide your students with challenging research projects and these students will excel in whatever they do after graduation.

Now we have the trustees, many of them graduated from Harvey Mudd, as your chairman did in 1977. Many are parents, past and present. They know and love this college. Their job is to keep your dreams and hopes alive. They will help you maintain this unique, amazing, one of a kind educational institution, thriving for years and years to come. A very good reason to smile and jump for joy. 

Love, Mom Jil.

John Birge, Hobart W. Williams Distinguished Service Professor of Operations Management, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business

It is an honor to offer my greetings to you as Harriet Nembhard’s former professor and be part of her inauguration as  president. It has in fact been my great pleasure over many years to witness all of Harriet’s numerous accomplishments and to see her career and her family flourish. 

I was truly fortunate when Harriet asked whether I would agree to be her dissertation advisor. I knew of course right away that she was going to be successful based on her excellent training at CMC and Arizona State. But, there was something else about how she was approaching the PhD program that especially impressed me.

Unlike many students who are looking days or weeks into the future, she was looking far ahead and knew what she was going to do along the way. She described to me how she was going to quickly pass her qualifying exams, and then start to work directly on her dissertation, how she was going to finish that promptly and go on to an academic career. She of course did all of those things exactly as she had planned. She especially took charge of the work on her thesis. She had this interest in quality control and wanted to combine it with optimization techniques that I was more familiar with. She then saw opportunities with observations that she had made at a cereal manufacturer. She noticed how incredibly long, hours or even days, it could take from starting up a new batch of cereal until the system started to produce quality product.

Harriet decided that was a problem she could fix with her quality control and optimization skills. She developed an extremely effective method that reduced wasted product and lost time, crafting a precise engineering solution. I use this example in my classes to this day to describe the impact of setup times and the value of strong systems analysis. 

I know that Harriet will similarly be applying all her skills in looking forward for Harvey Mudd now as its president in defining its best possible future. I wish you, Harriet, all the best in this endeavor and congratulate all of you of the Mudd community in benefiting as I have from sharing in Harriet’s journey through career and life.

Hyojung Kang, Assistant Professor, Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Today, as we gather to celebrate the inauguration of Harvey Mudd College’s President, Dr. Harriet Nembhard, I’m deeply honored and absolutely delighted to stand before you and express my profound gratitude for the mentorship and leadership that Dr. Nembhard has provided me throughout my academic journey and beyond.

Dr. Nembhard, you have been more than an academic advisor to me. You have been a guiding light, a source of inspiration and a pillar of support throughout my academic journey. Despite your busy schedule, you always made time for me, spent countless hours answering my questions and providing invaluable feedback that propelled me forward. From the earliest days of my academic endeavors, fraught with uncertainty and self-doubt, you stood by my side every step of the way. Your belief in my potential has given me the confidence to push past my limitations and strive for greatness. Even after I graduated, your support continued unabated. As I navigated the challenges in my career as a junior faculty member, you have been always there to lend an empathetic ear, provided invaluable words of wisdom, nurturing my ability to approach challenges with both curiosity and courage. Your steadfast guidance has been instrumental in shaping not only my scholarly pursuits but also in fostering my personal growth and development. Moreover, I try to carry your approach to mentorship forward through my own work with my students. You are, without a doubt, the best role model I could have had the opportunity to learn from.

In addition to professional excellence, I believe some of the important qualities of a leader are, empathy, compassion and kindness that fosters a culture of care across the academic community and beyond. You demonstrate all of these qualities, including a genuine concern for the welfare of your students, extending your support beyond the academic needs of students to address personal challenges, and to ensure they feel cared for and supported in all aspects of their lives. This inclusive caring environment is particularly meaningful to me. As an international student, communication was a hurdle I faced. But Dr. Nembhard.  You never made me feel inadequate. Your patience and attentive listening created a safe space for me to learn and grow, a sentiment I know is shared by many others under your guidance. Your dedication to building a community where every individual feels valued and empowered regardless of background is truly commendable. A great leader offers guidance, wisdom and a firm belief in the potential of those around them, and Dr. Nembhard is an excellent role model of all these characteristics.

As you take on this new role as President, I have every confidence that you will continue to lead with the same spirit of courageous leadership, passion, excellence, integrity and humility. You will inspire students, staff, faculty members and community members to dream big, embrace challenges with resilience and always strive for excellence in all that we do.

 Congratulations, President Nembhard.

Naomi Nembhard

Good morning. I’d like to share with you three sayings of my mom’s that I grew up hearing and have had an impact on me in one way or another.

The first is: “If you don’t have a plan B, you don’t have a plan.” I would hear this used to discuss anything from booking a plane ticket to applying to college. From hearing this so often, I think I learned not to get so caught up on things going perfectly, because if you have a plan B, the world isn’t going to fall apart if things don’t go exactly according to your plan A.

The second saying is more of a proposed retort. It came about because when we were little, my siblings and I would often be told just how adorable we were. And what my mom taught us to say back was: “and I’m smart too!” I always needed a bit of prompting to say it, but in retrospect, what a badass thing for a six-year-old to be saying. But in encouraging this response, my mom was teaching me this: People might often be quick to compliment you on the things about you over which you have little control, or not much choice. But it’s okay and good to be proud of yourself for the things you’ve accomplished and worked hard for.

The final saying I’d like to share is something I heard nearly every day of my childhood, from the time I was running out the door to catch the elementary school bus till my mom dropped me off in my college freshman dorm room. She would say: “be good, be smart.” And as familiar as those words would become to me over the years, the meaning and the importance of those instructions has continued to grow. “Be good, be smart.” Your goodness must be backed up by smart choices, because unconditional kindness isn’t always actually kind. And your smartness and your intelligence must have kindness at the forefront in order to make the kinds of changes we need to see.

Mom, thank you for teaching me these lessons and so many more. I’m so proud of you. And I am so glad your brilliance gets to be shared with such a wonderful community. Thank you.

David Nembhard, Professor of Engineering

Good morning, I am immensely grateful to the Harvey Mudd community for the warm reception and welcoming atmosphere that Harriet and I have received and continue to receive, as we have met so many brilliant and thoughtful students, their families, college staff and faculty. There is an incredibly strong culture of excellence, and stewardship for what it means to be a Mudder. I know this from the number of students who show up for my evening office hours, and from the equal or greater number who show up for my 8 a.m. office hours.

Harriet and I met over 33 years ago and we’ve been married for nearly 32. During these years, we raised three wonderful daughters, Olivia, Naomi and Charlotte, and I am immensely proud of each of them. I think we’ve made a pretty good team. So, when I contemplated sharing so much of Harriet with Harvey Mudd College, it did give me…As I learned more and more about this community, and experienced becoming a part of this community, I realize how honored and proud I am to share Harriet with you as she leads Harvey Mudd College as our sixth President. May her leadership inspire us to propel innovation, and reach new heights. Thank you.

Ada Limón, 24th Poet Laureate of the United States Reciting “In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa” and “Startlement”

The poet Emily Dickson once wrote, ‘I dwell in possibility. My whole life I believed in the imagination and its ability to expand our idea of what is possible. It’s all too easy these days to surrender to sinicism and give in to catastrophic thinking, but I believe in the power of exploring all the bright edges of our own existence, and in doing so, embrace the potential for powerful change.’

Today on the first day of Women’s History Month, and in honor of dear President Nembhard, I’m going to read two poems in honor of possibilities.

The first was commissioned by the National Climate Assessment and speaks to our connection to nature and our collective ability to move forward.


It is a forgotten pleasure, the pleasure

of the unexpected blue-bellied lizard

skittering off his sun spot rock, the flicker

of an unknown bird by the bus stop.

To think, perhaps, we are not distinguishable

and therefore no loneliness can exist here.

Species to species in the same blue air, smoke—

wing flutter buzzing, a car horn coming.

So many unknown languages, to think we have

only honored this strange human tongue.

If you sit by the riverside, you see a culmination

of all things upstream. We know now,

we were never at the circle’s center, instead

all around us something is living or trying to live.

The world says, What we are becoming, we are becoming together.

The world says, One type of dream has ended

and another has just begun.

The world says, Once we were separate,

and now we must move in unison.

The last poem I’ll read was commissioned by NASA, to be engraved on the side of the space craft called the Europe Clipper, which will travel 1.8 billion miles to Jupiter’s second moon called Europa; which is an icy moon which NASA believes may have all the ingredients for life.

A week from today I will speak with Dr. Laurie Glaze the director of NASA’s Science Mission Planetary Science division at South by Southwest and together we unveil the vault plate where my poem is engraved in my own handwriting. It was, if you can imagine, one of the hardest poetry prompts of my life, but I believe that creative challenges should be met with curiosity and openness. I believe in dwelling in possibilities.

It took a total of 19 drafts, but now it’s been signed by 2.6 million people from around the world who added their names to the poem and to the mission. Here is the completed poem that will be launched into space on Oct. 10.

And to President Harriet Nembhard, may all your possibilities be endless.

In Praise of Mystery: A Poem for Europa

Arching under the night sky inky

with black expansiveness, we point

to the planets we know, we

pin quick wishes on stars. From earth,

we read the sky as if it is an unerring book

of the universe, expert and evident.

Still, there are mysteries below our sky:

the whale song, the songbird singing

its call in the bough of a wind-shaken tree.

We are creatures of constant awe,

curious at beauty, at leaf and blossom,

at grief and pleasure, sun and shadow.

And it is not darkness that unites us,

not the cold distance of space, but

the offering of water, each drop of rain,

each rivulet, each pulse, each vein.

O second moon, we, too, are made

of water, of vast and beckoning seas.

We, too, are made of wonders, of great

and ordinary loves, of small invisible worlds,

of a need to call out through the dark.