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Valediction

Commencement 2011 at Mount Holyoke College.

Farewell to Shadley

Compared to the age of the earth, or even to the much briefer age of the human race, it was barely a moment ago in 1837 that Mary Lyon founded Mount Holyoke. It was just a split-second later when, while taking care of a sick student, she fell ill herself and passed away.

And now, today, our commencement speaker asked: “What are people able to do and to be?”

More to the point would be the question: What are we able to do and to be?

We can do a lot, because we have been given a lot. Now, it’s our turn to start giving back: to our communities, to our societies, and to our world. To all our fellow human beings, great or small. To those who suffer poverty, disease, or injustice. To those who look like us and those who don’t. To those who follow our faiths and those who follow other paths.

And we can also be a lot. We can be people who set an example of leadership, compassion, and dedication to the good. We can be people who make Mary Lyon proud that she founded Mount Holyoke. We can be people who, as Mary Lyon said, “fear nothing in the universe but that we will not know all our duty or shall fail to do it.”

Today, we celebrate the opportunity that we had to attend one of the finest colleges on earth — with the most dedicated teachers, the most interesting fellow students, and a curriculum that challenged all of us to become better than our best. Today, we celebrate how we embraced that opportunity and met that challenge. Today, we celebrate both the achievements of yesterday and the possibilities of tomorrow.

But today we also leave behind a place, and a part of our lives, that changed us forever. To sally forth into the new, we must let go of the old. And when we let go of something we love, it hurts. Part of us will always be at Mount Holyoke, and the spirit of Mount Holyoke will always be within us.

The word “valediction” comes from Latin. “Vale” is the command form of valere, meaning to be strong or be well. The “diction” part comes from dicere, to say. To give a valediction means wishing you to be strong and to fare well on your journey through life. I wish that to all of you: to my fellow Mohos as well as to my teachers, family, friends, and readers.

Be strong and fare well: The world needs you.


Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

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Martha Nussbaum and Me

I’ve been super busy and I didn’t mention that our commencement speaker is Martha Nussbaum, who is Ernst Freund Distinguished Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.

I actually wrote about Dr. Nussbaum back in January, when she published a book about the dangers and abuses of the Internet. She has some keen insights about the hazards of Internet anonymity, especially when it lets people attack others viciously and irresponsibly.

We’ve got our senior barbecue on Thursday, along with our “Class of 2011 Final Lecture,” which should be both informative and inspirational. And there are several other events. Then graduation. I’m still excited, happy, and sad about it, all at the same time.

Liberal Arts Grad = Starbucks Barista?

Four years of college for this? Photo: Phoenix New Times.

There’s the way the world should be. And there’s the way it actually is. It’s only sometimes that they are the same.

The Mount Holyoke News reports that liberal arts graduates are less likely to be recruited for jobs. According to a Wall Street Journal article about which colleges and universities recruiters favor:

The highest ranking schools on the list were Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—big public state universities with undergraduate enrollments of over 30,000 students.

Along with most other top-tier schools, MHC didn’t make the list. And the only Ivy that did make the list was Cornell.

The MH News article goes on at great length about liberal arts graduates’ learning abilities, versatility, and analytical thinking. And those qualities aren’t entirely worthless in the job market, according to ’07 graduate Maya Pillai:

Employers love liberal arts students for the flexibility in approach and easy adaptability to all kinds of jobs; and with the reputation MHC students have, employability rarely depends on just liberal arts vs. the regular schools,” she said.

Steve Koppi, director of the Career Development Center, urged students “not to believe the media hype:”

Koppi cited the NACE’s Job Outlook 2009 survey. According to the survey, the top five personal qualities employers look for are: communication skills (verbal and written) strong work ethic, teamwork skills (works well with others), initiative, and analytical skills. “All skills and abilities developed through a liberal education, like we offer at MHC,” Koppi said.

All true. We’ve got to believe in ourselves and that we’ve got a chance. We’ve got to value the knowledge, skills, and abilities that we’ve developed. That’s no guarantee of success, but sitting in a corner and crying is a guarantee of failure.

But I’d be less than honest if I pretended that the job market wasn’t scary. As intimidated as I am about starting med school, that’s not as intimidating as looking for a job after graduation.


Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

Putting My Diagnosis Where My Mouth Is

That isn’t me treating the patient, but in a few years? Photo: “House, M.D.” / Fox.

Okay, so the title doesn’t make much sense.

I wanted to say something like “putting my money where my mouth is,” but that doesn’t connect with the topic of this post. Anyway, money is crawling with microbes and all kinds of awful stuff. You don’t want it anywhere near your mouth.

The Well blog on The New York Times today had a diagnosis contest under the title “Think Like a Doctor.” Since I’m going to be a doctor in a few years, I gave it a try.

The blog article was written by Lisa Sanders, M.D., who is a clinical professor of medicine at Yale University. She’s also technical advisor to the TV series “House, M.D.” and author of the book Every Patient Tells a Story.

Dr. Sanders described a patient’s history and symptoms, then challenged her readers to make the correct diagnosis. Hundreds of readers replied, including practicing physicians, nurses, and medical students. And me.

Since I’m not even in medical school yet, I don’t expect my diagnosis to be right. But it makes sense to me, and a lot of the other diagnoses that people wrote about don’t make sense to me.

The Patient’s History and Symptoms

Here’s the short version of the patient’s situation, obviously focusing on what I think is important. I encourage you to read the whole article on The New York Times site.

The patient was a 76-year-old woman previously in good health except for a few minor complaints (high blood pressure and low thyroid) that were well controlled with medication. Her mother, 99, had died a few weeks earlier.

The patient initially had intestinal bleeding for which she was hospitalized. A colonoscopy found that she had blood vessel abnormalities. She was treated without surgery and recovered, but she still complained about feeling very tired.

More tests revealed a heart valve abnormality that the patient had probably had for a long time. She had an elevated white blood cell count. Although white blood cells are involved in fighting infections, an elevated white blood cell count shows only that the patient’s immune system is “on red alert,” possibly due to an infection. There can be other causes.

The patient started having mood swings and behaving bizarrely. She was alternately manic and depressed. She still complained of extreme fatigue. An MRI of the patient’s central nervous system (including the brain) was normal. She developed dark spots and infected-looking lesions on the skin of her hands and arms. She gained weight.

That’s the essence of it. And people came up with a lot of diagnoses.

Proposed Diagnoses

Many of the people who replied came up with diagnoses that I considered and then rejected.

Lyme disease was one: it’s a bacterial infection spread mostly by tick bites. It causes seemingly unrelated symptoms like the woman had. The microbe is similar to that for syphillis, a sexually-transmitted disease that several people also suggested as the cause. People who have had those infections for years can develop dementia. However, there was no indication that the woman was at risk for Lyme disease or had syphillis, so I rejected those possibilities.

Other suggestions were Cushing’s disease (caused by too much stress hormone) and Lupus Erythematosus, an “autoimmune” disease in which the patient’s immune system attacks the patient’s own body. But neither of those would have developed over a period of a few weeks. The patient had a family doctor who had treated her for years, and who would have known if she had either of those conditions. I rejected those possibilities.

Some people suggested Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, better known as “mad cow disease” that people can contract by eating infected beef. It’s a horrible disease, but it wouldn’t have developed over a period of a few weeks. Rejected.

Some people suggested that her medications had made her sick. That’s certainly possible, since “iatrogenic illness” (illness caused by medical treatment) is the third leading cause of death in the United States, right after heart disease and cancer. But I think that her first symptom was intestinal bleeding, and that occurred before she started treatment with all the new drugs. So although iatrogenic illness is a good guess, I rejected it.

A lot of people suggested vasculitis, which is kind of a non-specific disease of blood vessel inflammation. However, from the doctors in my family, I know that vasculitis is a “diagnosis of exclusion.” That means you diagnose someone with vasculitis when there’s obviously something wrong with them, but you’ve eliminated all the other possibilities and you can’t figure out what the problem actually is. Dr. Sanders wouldn’t have used that as a diagnostic challenge. Rejected.

My Diagnosis

I won’t find out if my diagnosis is correct until The Well blog is updated on Thursday, when Dr. Sanders has promised to reveal the answer. As I said, I don’t expect to get it right but will be thrilled if I do.

Here’s what I think. You can throw out most of the patient’s previous medical history because the onset was relatively sudden. Also, the intestinal bleeding strikes me as a symptom rather than a cause. The patient probably had the blood vessel malformations in her intestines for years. Something caused them to start bleeding.

Two facts are key:

  • The symptoms appeared within a few weeks after she had been caring for her mother, who died. We can assume that she cleaned out her mother’s house, and that the house contained items that had been there for many years undisturbed.
  • We want a diagnosis that explains fatigue, intestinal bleeding, dementia, elevated white count, and skin lesions.

My diagnosis: While cleaning out her mother’s house, the patient was exposed to black mold (Stachybotrys chartarum) and infected. Most of her symptoms resulted from the infection and from attendant mycotoxicosis from Tricothecene.

We’ll see on Thursday, April 21 if I was right.

And the Results Are In

Looks like I still have to go to medical school! 🙂

The correct diagnosis was Cushing’s syndrome, which I rejected because I thought that the patient’s symptoms developed too quickly and it wouldn’t explain the intestinal bleeding.

Apparently, however, the bleeding was unconnected. The Cushing’s syndrome was confirmed by a test that in a normal person should suppress blood levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. However, the test did not suppress the patient’s cortisol levels, which remained very high.

But the really exciting thing is …

Even though my diagnosis was wrong, Dr. Sanders commented on it in her blog. She said that my diagnosis was “very House-ian.” To me, that seems like a huge compliment, since she’s the medical advisor for “House, M.D.” and House is supposed to be a genius. I was excited about it, anyway. 🙂


Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

Whither Weather?

Ugh. Rain. And snow coming. One to three inches.

May, and graduation, loom ever closer. I’m excited. And happy. And I want to cry.

Does that make any sense? Of course not. I know it’s silly. I’m studying and working like crazy to finish everything for graduation, and at the same time, I don’t want it to be finished. I can’t believe that my life will ever be like this again. But I guess you never know, it might be even better in ways that I haven’t imagined.

I know that there’s a world going on outside of Shadley, but lately I’ve barely had time to notice it. President Pasquerella sent a stern letter to the Governor of Maine, who had ordered a mural about labor history removed from the Maine Department of Labor. Our connection was that the mural included a picture of Francis Perkins, an MHC alumna who fought for workers’ rights. Of course, the Governor of Maine went right ahead and had the mural removed because the Department of Labor should be on the side of … who? That’s right, big business.

Anyway, back to Shadley at least until May. Someone said that life is what happens while you’re busy doing something else. So I guess this is life. It’s good. But sometimes you have to let go of things that you don’t want to let go. That’s the only way you can move on to other things when it’s time for you to do that.

Sorry, I know that probably sounds really morose. I’m about halfway through a homework assignment, and I’m enjoying it but I’m procrastinating a little about finishing it. Shouldn’t do that.

Have a great rest of the week! See you at the Dirty. 🙂


Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

Valentine’s Day Afterparty

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and today is the Valentine’s Day Afterparty.

Okay, I lied about the second part. Today, I’ve been making up study time that I spent partying in the first part.

Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

Last year, I had a Valentine’s Day secret admirer whose identity I discovered at brunch on Sunday. The surprise was pleasant.

This year, the admirer was no secret and the admiration was mutual, but we skipped Sunday brunch. The surprise came on Monday.

I thought nothing was going to happen, but the surprise was a Valentine’s Day dinner in Holyoke. Live music. Passion fruit sorbet. Margherita chicken. Shrimp. Chocolate fondue. Champagne. Then afterwards, some quiet time together, talking and celebrating in less verbal ways.

So instead of studying, I spent the evening at dinner and in various Sixth-Commandment violations, starting with immodest dress. 🙂

I’m catching up tonight, but it was worth it.

I hope that you, too, had a wonderful Valentine’s Day!


Copyright 2011 by Rinth de Shadley.

Meet the Other Rinth

This isn’t about me having an evil twin. There’s another Rinth online. She’s a student born in 1989 just like me, and I met her today!

Her blog address is rinth89.wordpress.com. She is a Swedish Muslim and goes to law school in Lulea, a city on the northern coast of Sweden. I had never heard of Lulea, so I looked it up. It’s almost a thousand years old and Wikipedia has some beautiful pictures of it.

As you would expect from someone who is already in law school at age 21, the other Rinth is very accomplished. She speaks Swedish, English, and Bengali. Her blog is in English. And she says that she writes for some of the same reasons I do: to work through ideas or feelings, to understand life, and to make a contribution to society.

She has a lot of thoughtful reflections about life and dealing with people. Check out her blog.

And to the other Rinth, this is my shout out to you! I hope that you are having a wonderful weekend. 🙂

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