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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.

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.

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.

Tips for Firsties

Welcome to Shadley!

You’re starting one of the most exciting and meaningful experiences of your life. And you’re going to be great.

Here, you can become whatever you want. Your fellow students and your professors will support you.

Maybe you’re nervous or worried about going to an all-women college. Don’t be. There’s lots of studying, because this is a top school. You need to work hard. But there’s also lots of social life if you want it.

Convocation is your real introduction to life at MHC. You’ll have three more after this one. When you get to be a senior like me, and it’s going to be your last convocation as a student here, you’ll cry a little. Or maybe more than a little. Like I am, right now. By then, this place will be your second home and family. It will mean that much to you.

Anyway, here are some tips for firsties:

  • If you’ve got a car, leave it at home next term. You won’t really need it and parking is a bother.
  • Get some ice cream and participate in activities on Mountain Day. You’ll hear all about that later on.
  • Get to know The Thirsty Mind. There’s no other place like it. By the way, if someone refers to “The Dirty,” they’re talking about The Thirsty Mind.
  • Get to know your Big Sister. She can give you good advice about everything from classes to traditions. She’ll be your friend for life.
  • Get to know your professors. Unlike at most schools, professors here take a personal interest in you. They will give you all the help, support, and encouragement you need.
  • Get involved!
  • Get to know the area. Shadley pretty much closes at 9pm, but it’s still great.
  • Get to know Amherst and UMass. They are our principal suppliers of guys, if that interests you. UMass parties can get pretty wild. Amherst tends to be a little more like the Upper East Side. 🙂

And last but certainly not least:

  • Study! Do all the work. Here are some tips.

I can’t tell you how much this place means to me or how much I will miss it when I graduate. Enjoy it, make the most of it, and it will be part of you for as long as you live.


Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Rinth’s Really Bad Poetry

This is some really bad poetry I wrote because I’m exhausted from final exams and feeling sad about leaving college for the summer. You might not feel that way about your school, but we do about ours. It means a lot to us.

Anyway, this poetry is really, really bad. You have been warned. 🙂

Walking Fearless into the Darkness

In the night after final exams,
I walk into the darkness,
I’m not afraid, maybe I should be,
(Though probably not, not here),
But I’m at home and I feel the warmth,
The lights on the street penetrate me,
Awakening memories in my mind and body.

In my thoughts, emotions, and flesh,
I recall the moments, the hours, the days:
Sharing heart with my friends,
Sharing ideas with my teachers,
Sharing embrace with a lover,
Or two, or just a nice someone
As an evening companion, or more.

The experiences and ideas,
Sights and sounds and touches,
They held me close,
They opened me up,
They poured themselves into me,
And made me more than I was before.

Soon I will leave here for a few months,
But I won’t ever be away, not from here,
Because here is something I carry with me,
In my mind and spirit, in the life that stretches
Before me, so much wider from what
I’ve learned and done and experienced,
And even more by the cherished ones who
Have led me and followed me and walked
Beside me, and who always shared their spirit.

Can I feel your breath on my face,
Your heat against my body,
Or is it the breath of possibility
And the heat of adventure, the shining
Stars of life that lie ahead, of a journey
To whatever comes, and even more
To whoever comes with it.

We will make the journey together,
All of us here, in the past and future,
For me, one more year in this place,
But for this place, forever in me.

And we can’t make the world,
But we can make a piece of it,
And it will be better than it was
Because of what happened here
And those of us it happened to.


Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

What Good Teachers Do

They teach. They encourage. They challenge. They don’t try to overwhelm you or make you feel stupid. They’re mainly about making sure that you learn what you need to know.

I am totally tired right now from studying, but I had a good final exam today. That’s what made me think about good teachers.

The exam was thorough but not really hard. No particularly tricky questions. They were all straight-ahead: Do you know what we studied this semester, or not? If you know it, you do well. If you don’t know it, you don’t do well.

That’s not to say that the exam wasn’t a lot of work. It was. And there was one question where I might have messed up the last part. But whether I do well or badly (I expect to do well), I can’t say that the test wasn’t fair. It was fair. And it was clear, and it made me want to learn more. Isn’t that what education should really be about?

We are incredibly lucky at our school to have professors who care about us and take an interest in helping us succeed. Who explain things. Who answer even the stupidest questions with clarity and encouragement.

Another exam looms tomorrow. It will be fair, too. And tough. I know the professor because I’ve taken a class from her before. She’s close enough that I once went to her just to talk about a personal problem that had nothing to do with class.

And I can’t believe it, but I’ve been so consumed by studying for finals that I forgot we had a last homework assignment in her class. She sent me a gentle reminder, so before the exam I’ll get it done and turned in.

I’m going to study some more and then I have to get some sleep. I hope that you are having a great, exciting, and fun week! I am, too, even if I don’t sound like it. 🙂


Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.

Five Things That I’ve Learned

I’d like to share a few things that I’ve learned. Some of the ideas are related to each other:

1. Life isn’t just about me.

Sometimes, I get to be the star and other people support me. Sometimes, other people get to be the star and my job is to support them. The same applies to all of us. Sometimes we’re the star, sometimes the supporting actor. We should play either role with grace and gratitude.

Sometimes, things go the way we want and other people are disappointed. Sometimes, things go the way other people want and we get disappointed. When the latter happens, share the happiness of the people who “won” this time, learn whatever you can from the situation, and then move on to the next goal without looking back.

2. If something isn’t in our control, don’t stress over it.

Sometimes, we and the people we love will get sick. Sometimes, we won’t get the jobs or the social situations we want. Sometimes, we will get dumped. By the time we’re 30, the Arctic ice pack will probably be history (not that we were ever going to go there, anyway). Someday, the sun will explode. Someday, each of us will almost certainly die.

We can’t do a thing about any of those events. Don’t worry about them. Try to invest emotional energy only in things we can control.

3. People do whatever they do. Get over it.

People always think they have good reasons for doing what they do. We usually don’t know what their reasons are. Even when someone makes a hurtful remark, she’s doing it for a reason. Maybe she misinterpreted something we said or did, and that hurt her. In her mind, we were the ones who started it. She might think that she’s just striking back.

People very rarely do mean things just from pure meanness. Instead, they have reasons that make sense to them. In addition, they often have subconscious motivations of which they aren’t even aware.

The best thing we can do is try to be as fair and as nice as we can to everyone. If they don’t act that way toward us, remember that we don’t know their reasons. They see the situation differently from the way we see it.

We are only in charge of our own behavior. We should only worry about making sure that our own actions are fair and loving. How other people act is their choice, between them and their conscience. We have no control over that, so we shouldn’t worry about it.

4. This, too, is for the good.

Our viewpoint is very limited. We don’t see the big picture and we are biased by our own desires. When something happens that frustrates us, we need to remember fact #1: “Life isn’t just about me.”

If we can improve a “bad” situation without hurting people, then we should do it. Otherwise, we should trust in the essential goodness of the universe and not worry about it. Things will work out for the best.

5. Happiness and fulfillment are the goals of life.

For you, for me, and for everyone. Things that help people achieve happiness and fulfillment are good. Things that frustrate the process are bad.

In our personal actions, we should seek happiness and fulfillment for ourselves in a way that supports other people’s pursuit of them. In our countries’ social policies, we should do the same. Policies that help the most people achieve the most happiness and fulfillment are good as long as they don’t violate people’s rights or cause excessive harm.


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.