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Still not having it all

A new movie portrays women of Wellesley college, circa 1953.For students at the school today, how much has really changed?

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'You can bake your cake and eat it, too.' That's what Julia Roberts's character in the film "Mona Lisa Smile" tells a brilliant, soon-to-wed student at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. It's 1953, and Julia plays Katherine Watson, a free-thinking Californian teaching art history at the prestigious women's college. Typical of the era, most of her students value marriage and family over a career. But their hip new professor nudges them to rethink those priorities.

"Mona Lisa Smile," which opens Friday, depicts the "beginning of choice for women," says Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, coproducer of the film. "We thought it was time to get people talking about this issue and how women have choices today."

She needn't have worried. On the Wellesley campus, at least, this dialogue is alive and well.

Five decades may have passed, but for all the sweeping changes that have touched the campus and the world around it, certain basic dilemmas continue to perplex young women who attend the elite school.

Wellesley today is academically selective and demanding to a degree that probably would have astonished the young students of 1953. As a result, the women who attend the school today are among the nation's brightest and most ambitious.

Interviews with a number of these young women reveal that they are buzzing about their choices - eager to discuss their plans to be doctors, lawyers, bankers, teachers, or religious leaders. Most Wellesley students, at least 85 percent by one estimate, are confident they can manage a seamless transition from cap and gown to the world of work.

But for all their ideas and determination, these articulate and ambitious women also reveal a vulnerability one might not expect. They see how difficult it can be to balance a high-powered career and family, and they talk openly about feeling daunted by the challenge ahead.


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