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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.

Slightly Sad in Shadley

I was feeling happy earlier this evening, but now I’m a little depressed.

Maybe it’s hitting me that this is my last semester in Shadley. I’ve got exciting classes this spring, and one of them looks difficult. Those are the ones that make you stretch, grow, learn, and achieve things that you never thought you could do.

But I’m thinking, after May, that’s it. No more coffee at the Dirty. No more Skinner Green. No more Blanchard. Most of all, no more seeing my friends and teachers every day. I’ll miss that. They’re part of who I am. So is Shadley. Always will be.

I’ll come back for reunions and events of course, but I’ll also be busy with graduate education and life. Shadley will have to fit into that schedule.

Wait a second. That was all true earlier this evening when I felt happy. And I know from some of my neuroscience and psychology classes that highs alternate with lows. The reason I feel low now is that I was emotionally high before. I mean, I’m still sad that I’ll be leaving Shadley after graduation, but that’s not the important thing right now. Even the Bible says it:

Don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will take care of itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34)

The important thing right now is to enjoy this semester and make the most of it. To study. To spend time with my friends. To let my professors know how much I appreciate all the things they’ve taught me and how much they’ve encouraged me. To walk around campus and make a memory picture that I can take with me wherever I go.

I feel better now. This is going to be a great semester.


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.

Phoebe Prince’s Suicide

I haven’t written anything about Phoebe Prince’s suicide. It’s a terrible tragedy and I just didn’t know what to say. I still don’t. You want to say something that will make it not have happened. But you can’t.

Phoebe, who had moved here from Ireland last year with her family, was in her first year at South Hadley High School. In addition to the stress of adjusting to a new country and a new school, she was mercilessly and relentlessly bullied by nine other students. They harassed her at school and on Facebook, assaulted her physically, and spread hateful rumors about her. On January 14, they finally pushed her over the edge.

The best we can hope is that Phoebe is now in a better, kinder, more loving world. But that’s small comfort to her family and friends. Nor is it a comfort to her school or to South Hadley, which must bear the shame and remorse of having failed to help her in her anguish.

Nor is it a comfort to anyone who looks at her photo and sees a smiling, eager young woman, full of hope and potential, with a joyful life ahead of her. All of that was assassinated by pointless, stupid cruelty.

Now, we’ll never know what Phoebe would have done or become. Maybe the best thing we can do is try to learn from the tragedy.

Almost all of us are capable of cruelty. High school students often lack empathy and don’t give enough thought to the possible results of their actions. Those are facts about human nature that we can’t change.

But what can we do?

There are several things that might have helped Phoebe:

  • School officials must take bullying seriously.
  • They must stay alert for bullying and punish it when it occurs.
  • They must require bullies to get counseling or therapy to help them stop.
  • They must monitor known bullies and, if needed, separate them from other students.
  • They must educate students about how evil bullying is.
  • They must promote a culture that despises bullying as many people despise smoking.
  • They must promote and show compassion, empathy, and understanding.

We can’t eliminate bullying completely. But we can at least make sure that it’s punished and that it’s considered shameful.

May God bless you, Phoebe, and wash away your suffering.


Copyright 2010 by Rinth de Shadley.