Irish President Mary McAleese addressed the 2009 graduating class at Mount Holyoke, the prestigious women’s liberal arts college in Massachusetts, this past weekend.
McAleese, who was awarded an honorary degree from the College, pointed to the combined efforts of men and women in the Northern Ireland Peace Process as an example of how the world should function – as “a bird flying on two wings,” which “has a better chance of getting somewhere that a bird flying on one.”
“For centuries our world has tried to fly on one wing, and it has not been a pretty sight as it struggled with the downstream consequences of wasting the talent and potential of that other wing, the women of the world,” McAleese said.
“In the developed world the story has changed profoundly in a relatively short period of time and already, for example, in my own country of Ireland it is no accident that the peace and reconciliation that eluded us generation after generation for hundreds of years has at last come to pass, in an Ireland where women’s talents are flooding every aspect of life as never before.”
McAleese described the hardships that women face around the globe – from grave injustices in third world countries and ones in the U.S. and Ireland, where women are paid less and “pulled out of school first when family finances are reduced.”
“But here in this great democracy you are in charge of your destiny,” McAleese said, quoting Mount Holyoke’s very own Emily Dickinson, who wrote “you dwell in possibility”
“There are obstacles to a fair, just and free world that need the collective efforts of principled men and women,” she went on. “There is an Irish saying that ‘two shortens the journey.’ A bird flying on two wings has a better chance of getting somewhere that a bird flying on one.”
McAleese paid tribute to Irish Americans, men and women alike, who contributed to the Irish Peace Process.
“Our Peace Process in Ireland is a good case in point for it was the combined imagination and determination of an educated generation of men and women that finally broke the stranglehold of history and allowed us as the Ulster poet John Hewitt said, ‘to fill the centuries’ arrears.’
“We were blessed in our friends who helped shorten the road to peace. Above all, here in America: I think of Senator Kennedy; of Senator George Mitchell; Congressman Richie Neal here beside me; Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama; of now Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. I think of people across the whole Irish American community – who devoted their time, their energy and their concrete help to building the momentum for peace and the groundwork for reconciliation.”
The second female Irish President ended her speech with another Irish saying.
“There is an Irish proverb that says ‘Tus maith is leath na hoibre’ – ‘a good start is half the work.’ Mount Holyoke offered you a good start and you took it. Enjoy the other half and may the best for you, and for all of us be still to come, in and through your lives, your unique genius,” McAleese said.