Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Three Cheers For Mount Holyoke

One – Book Group

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot See

I’m part of two book groups. One is the Bridgeport, Connecticut, Mount Holyoke Alumnae Book Group. We’re to discuss All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr next week. I’d read the book, or rather listened to it, some months ago and have been listening again. I find it intriguing and engrossing.

One of the characters is a bird lover. A book of Audubon prints figures in his story. So when I read about an exhibit at the New York Historical Society of Audubon engravings and prints, I thought it would be fun to see.

I also remembered that when I was in 4th grade we had a project about birds and the Audubon paintings. We were each asked to choose a bird; mine was the scarlet tanager.

When I meet my friend Marilyn in New York, we usually visit a museum. She was happy to make the New York Historical Society our destination last week.

At the entrance to the Audubon exhibit we were given devices with which we could listen to recordings of the birds’ songs.

Long-eared owl, my favorite

Long-eared owl, my favorite

For the first four or five pictures, I listened to every one.

Then I looked at the size of the room and realized I would have to be selective. So I chose to listen to the birds I liked best.

The long-eared owl, Asio Otus, was my favorite, both for his wise look and his sound. It was clearly a “who, who,: deep and pleasant, followed by “hmm, hmm,” sounding a little annoyed.

Marilyn and me in front of the beautifully decorated carriage from the 1770's.

Marilyn and me in front of the beautifully decorated carriage from the 1770’s.

Also fascinating at the New York Historical Society was the exhibit on President Lincoln and the Jews, a display of photographs from Selma, and the carriage in the entrance, from the 1770’s!

Two – Frances Perkins Program

Mount Holyoke has a program for women who want to complete a degree after some years away from college, frequently for financial reasons. There has been financial assistance, but now it is fully supported. “A program designed for women 25 years and older who have experienced an interruption in their education, the Perkins program has existed since 1980 and became tuition-free in 2014.”

The program is named for Mount Holyoke alum Frances Perkins, the first Secretary of Labor, in Franklin Roosevelt’s cabinet. I have friends who graduated from the program, and I love the fact that Mount Holyoke provides this opportunity.

Laura, one of the women in the Mount Holyoke Book Group, sent a link to an article about four women from a local community college who have just been accepted to the program. Congratulations to them! And thanks to Laura for sharing the information.

Three – Alumnae Gatherings

Sharon, our hostess, and me in her foyer

Sharon, our hostess, and me in her foyer

This afternoon I gave a book talk for the Fairfield Villages Mount Holyoke Alumnae. It was at the lovely Greenwich home of Sharon, an alum from the class of 1973.

The woman who was taken away in an ambulance from the gathering at my home a few weeks ago was there, looking healthy.

I so enjoy sharing my story with others. Each time I’m speaking I change the presentation a little, but even with changes I now know it well and don’t need notes. I always end with a reading, usually two sections. Today I read a few paragraphs about the first meal at Federal Palace Hotel and then the segment about visiting the Dibia in Clem’s village. You can read the first meal segment toward the end of this excerpt, and part of the Dibia story in another excerpt.

I sat to speak so I didn't block the screen

I sat to speak so I didn’t block the screen

Audience members tell me they are impressed with how polished my presentation is, and I think, that was just easy and fun!

Eighteen people came and nine bought books which I signed.

There was one man in the audience. It was obvious that he and his wife knew something about Africa; they were nodding in agreement and understanding at some of my comments. Later they told me their daughter had been in the Peace Corps in Togo, two countries to the west of Nigeria, from 2012 to 2014. They had visited her and then traveled across neighboring Benin Republic and into Nigeria.

Where would you want to visit in Africa today?

Nigeria Election – Reflection

I found a well-written piece in a blog from the Free University of Berlin about the Nigerian election. I don’t know who wrote it, but I’m guessing it’s a Nigerian graduate student at the university. S/he makes all the points about the success of the election and the hope for a better future that I’ve read elsewhere, many of which I stated today in my talk.

How do you feel about the election in Nigeria? Is this your first time learning about politics in Nigeria, or do you have experience there or elsewhere in Africa?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Dear Cathy,

    just back from London and on the road again!!! Great!!
    It seem the author of the article on the nigerian election is a doctoral fellow named Rahina Muazu at the Berlin Graduate School for Muslim Cultures and Societies.

    Her email address is:

    in case you want to send her your blog.

  2. Hi Catherine — Frances Perkins was not only the 1st Sec of Labor but the first woman in a president’s cabinet. More kudos for MH!

  3. Yes, I believe David Brooks also included Frances Perkins in his 92nd Street Y talk — March 2014 — about “moral genius” & “character,” in which he points to the defining moments in the life of several people:

  4. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading David Brooks’ new book, “The Road to Character.” Frances Perkins is the first historical figure whose life he traces in detail. He reviews her Mount Holyoke years and describes her first-hand witness of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, where dozens of young women jumped to their death after finding themselves trapped in the burning factory. It was the defining moment in her heroic life as an advocate for women and Labor Secretary in the Roosevelt administration.