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Farewell Letter from Dr. Carol A. Leary

This is a bittersweet moment for me because it marks my last letter in the Bay Pathway. I have said often during the last several months, “Where did 25 years go?”

I can still remember the day Noel and I traveled from Boston to Longmeadow to visit the campus. We drove through the town of Longmeadow, and as we turned down the main driveway, we had a reaction much like that of so many of our students. We fell in love immediately with Bay Path. Over the subsequent days and months, I met so many wonderful people—students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and guests—who shared with me their commitment and dedication to this institution. On every level, I saw the tremendous potential at Bay Path for great things.

From the beginning, the entire Bay Path community, as well as leaders in the region, welcomed me graciously and enthusiastically. In those early months, many went to great lengths to offer support and introduce me to key individuals who would be critical in the transformation of Bay Path. The kindness and hospitality shown by so many people made our transition to our new home effortless. Quickly, Noel and I knew we were part of a very special place.

For 25 years, every time I entered Deepwood Hall, I passed through the gateway of impressive white columns that flank the main door. It has been a constant reminder that I was entrusted with the stewardship of the history and legacy of Bay Path…a legacy that includes thousands of alumni who proudly called Bay Path their alma mater.

In fact, one of the greatest joys of my job has been meeting our alumni. Over the years, I have had the privilege to meet alumni who have graduated from the Bay Path Institute, Bay Path Secretarial School for Women, Bay Path Junior College, Bay Path College, and now, Bay Path University. Their stories represent more than 80 years of Bay Path’s evolution, reaching back to before 1945, and include alumni from the Bay Path Institute that was founded in 1897. I will never forget chatting with the graduates from the Bay Path Institute at our annual “Evening Under the Stars” events. I was transfixed by their experiences that included commuting by trolley to our then downtown Springfield campus and finding lodging in people’s homes because we had no residence halls. And I was entertained by tales from members of the Bay Path Junior College and Bay Path College days who went to great ends to be back before curfews. Many shared their stories of enjoying a sundae at the Friendly’s Ice Cream shop across the street. Today, I am kept up to date by alumni emails from women and men all over the world, sharing new graduate degrees, career promotions, or family news. It just points to how quickly the world has changed, but through the decades, there was one constant—the friendships I made and will cherish with so many of our alumni.

Often, I am asked how Bay Path reinvented itself and grew from 450 to more than 3,300 students. I can point to many reasons, and, indeed, I have written and discussed our menu for success. Yet, in my mind, there is one factor that rises above all others: the people. Throughout this incredible journey of my presidency, trustees, alumni, faculty, staff, and countless others have worked tirelessly, given generously, and supported this beloved university unreservedly. I wish I could say “thank you” to each one of you, but know the depths of my appreciation and gratitude are limitless.

When I look back and see all that has been achieved at Bay Path, it does leave me breathless. In this issue of the Bay Pathway, the “Milestones” section captures some of the high points, but there are so many other accomplishments that could be mentioned. Our website will be featuring an archive section that will chronicle those achievements and serve as Bay Path’s genealogy. I encourage you to visit it and see how our tree now has many branches!

“May you always seize the day.”

I take special pride in the impact Bay Path has had on higher education. In 1999, when the One-Day-A-Week Saturday program was launched, no one could have imagined that adult women would enroll in an accelerated, flexible program held all day long on Saturdays, virtually year-round. We proved the naysayers wrong, and students came to Bay Path by the hundreds and graduated by the thousands. Then, our niche graduate programs were introduced, such as the MS in Communications and Information Management, the MBA in Entrepreneurial Thinking and Innovative Practices, and the MS in Nonprofit Management, among others. An umbrella of health science programs, including the Master of Occupational Therapy and the MS in Physician Assistant Studies, and the Occupational Therapy Doctorate, our first doctoral program, also became part of the Graduate School and found a new home in the incredible Ryan Health Science Center. To date, we have over 70 undergraduate majors and concentrations and 40 master’s and doctoral programs. We have never stopped moving.

At Bay Path, we also recognized early on that higher education needed to shift to provide access to millions of people, particularly women, in America. Throughout my tenure, I never wavered from our mission as a women- and career-oriented higher education institution. It made us distinctive. It was that belief, coupled with a vision for online learning, that would lead to the development of The American Women’s College (TAWC) in 2013. The Social Online Universal Learning (SOUL) platform that is the engine for the TAWC model has put Bay Path in the forefront of online learning, earning national accolades. Today, as we see higher education dramatically working to come to grips with the COVID-19 pandemic, our early efforts to enter the online space, first with graduate and then undergraduate education, have made us stronger and more resilient to meet the future.

As I leave, I also take with me a treasure trove of memories: alumni receptions and reunions that had an equal dose of laughter and tears; Capitals of the World Trips with “aha” and “wow” moments with students and alumni; Women’s Leadership Conferences that uplifted our spirits; and graduations that proved that dreams really can come true. There is so much more. For my husband, Noel, and me, these experiences will last a lifetime.

For almost five decades, Noel has truly been my partner in this life journey. Our relationship has been built on the qualities of respect, honesty, and trust. With him by my side, I felt we could accomplish anything. He was there to cheer me on and to lift me up when times were challenging. I am so blessed to have him as my husband, sounding board, and my true and lasting love. When the Board of Trustees surprised me with a celebration of my retirement at its May 18, 2020, meeting—all virtual, of course—I was especially honored and thrilled that the board chose to award Noel an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters. Now he, too, will truly be part of Bay Path’s history.

I am humbled and proud to have served as your president. As a young woman, I would never have imagined that I would have this opportunity to help influence and affect the lives of so many people and to create an environment for our faculty and staff to channel their special talents and dreams to help change the course of Bay Path and higher education. When the moment came to lead and serve Bay Path, I followed a course so reflective of our motto, “Seize the Day.” This is my wish for you—may you always seize the day.

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