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‘No strangers to courage’

MSMU President Ann McElaney-Johnson delivers commencement address at Marymount High School.

May 30, 2018

On May 25, Mount Saint Mary’s President Ann McElaney-Johnson, PhD, challenged Marymount High School’s graduating Class of 2018 to be bold and to strive to create a more just, vibrant and equitable world for all.

“Graduates, you are no strangers to courage. You have been stretching and strengthening that muscle as students here at Marymount,” McElaney-Johnson said. “And here’s the thing, this world needs bold women who are not afraid to raise their voice.”

 MSMU President Ann McElaney-Johnson was invited to deliver the commencement address to Marymount High School's Class of 2018.
MSMU President Ann McElaney-Johnson was invited to deliver the commencement address to Marymount High School's Class of 2018.

McElaney-Johnson’s remarks came as part of her commencement address at the Los Angeles high school, located a short drive from Mount Saint Mary’s University’s Chalon Campus in the Santa Monica Mountains. During her speech, McElaney-Johnson noted the similarities between the two institutions — both founded by inspirational women (the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet at Mount Saint Mary’s and the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary at Marymount) who believed that all women could, and should, live full lives of purpose. She added that purposeful lives of action are needed more than ever now.

“I feel a sense of urgency every time I have the opportunity to address young women today for you have so much ahead of you and this world has such need of you,” McElaney-Johnson said. “Need of your intelligence, your heart, your sense of justice, your integrity, your openness, and most importantly, your courage.”

Statistics underscore this need. The Center for the Advancement of Women at Mount Saint Mary’s University produces an annual Report on the Status of Women and Girls in California™, in which researchers explore gender gaps such as the persistent wage gap, the dearth of women in leadership positions in Fortune 500 firms, the lack of representation of women in corporate board rooms and in elected political office, the need for more women in STEM fields, gender inequities in the media (both behind and in front of the camera) and issues of health and safety for women both in the workplace and at home.

“The statistics are sobering,” McElaney-Johnson told Marymount’s Class of 2018. “We need courageous women to use their minds, their hearts and their strong and clear voices to eradicate obstacles to a truly just and equitable future for all. Be those women.

“For when a young woman discovers and learns to use her voice, she will speak up no matter who is in the room. So speak up loudly for what is right and what is true. And do not apologize for disagreeing. We need differing points of view to discover real wisdom. Disagree respectfully but with confidence.  And please remove from your lexicon the phrase: ‘That’s just my opinion.’ Please do not ever say that it is ‘just’ your opinion. That phrase diminishes your worth and your intelligence.”

Above all else, McElaney-Johnson charged the graduates, be confident in your beliefs, but be willing to change your thinking when it’s warranted. It’s from our diversity and different strengths that we learn and grow.

“None of us holds a premium on truth,” McElaney-Johnson said. “Others’ lives and stories teach us so much and allow us to move beyond the confines of our experience.

“Let me conclude with the words of writer Anais Nin: ‘Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.’ Graduates of the Class of 2018, I wish for you ever-expanding lives. Lives of bold dreams, audacious goals, profound love and deep purpose.”

President McElaney-Johnson is the current board chair of the Women’s College Coalition, and a recognized thought leader for women’s issues and a champion for innovative teaching and learning. In addition to her more than 30 years of service to liberal arts colleges throughout the country, she is also currently: a member of the advisory board for the Women in Public Service Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; member of the advisory council and the ambassador council of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media at Mount Saint Mary’s University; on the board of directors for the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities; on the board of trustees for the College of the Holy Cross; member of the board of the Association of Colleges of Sisters of Saint Joseph; and member of the board at Marymount High School. 

Learn more about President Ann McElaney-Johnson at