Important Message From AAVC

At the magazine's press time, the college community received the news that as of July 1, 2006, Frances D. Fergusson will step down as president of Vassar College.

For the last two decades, Fran’s vision has given us the extraordinary qualities of our world-class campus. As she often notes, ultimately the true measure of any institution is its people. It was Fran who foresaw, as no one else had before her, what a fully coeducational Vassar College could mean: a model of the vital importance of liberal arts education in an increasingly distracted and frazzled society. She had the vision to see how we could build upon, not turn our backs on, Matthew Vassar’s Magnificent Enterprise, and make it more true to his principles than ever. Her vision continues to enrich our college, which every year becomes more and more the first choice of the best, the most creative, the most caring young people, because Fran's insight and her example make it a welcoming home for such students—and faculty and staff.

On behalf of AAVC—and indeed, on behalf of the much broader Vassar community—I offer Fran our congratulations, our everlasting gratitude, and our love. While she will continue to make her mark on the college in the next sixteen months, I have no doubt that her twenty years of service to Vassar College will be remembered reverently as "the Fergusson years."

AAVC President and Vassar Trustee Paula Williams Madison ’74

More to come on President Fergusson’s continuing service to Vassar, her plans, and her legacy in future issues.

Cover Girl

Finally!!! Somebody decided it was time to feature Olga Guardia Smoak ’61 in the Quarterly!!! [Winter 2004] I just had to write to you to thank you for sharing with all of Vassar the phenomenal life of one of its brightest stars! Olga Smoak changed my life. I remember Olga bringing her Vassar slide show to New Orleans’ Alcee Fortier Senior High School in fall 1973. But she brought something more than just slides—her enthusiasm for Vassar and her genuine interest in helping young people expand their horizons.

At 17, I had never heard of Vassar. I was immediately attracted to Olga because she was Spanish like me. But the beauty of Olga is that she reached out to all young people. She didn’t care about race, religion, or background. She cared about the individual and encouraged us to apply. That year, Alcee Fortier sent four of its seniors to Vassar: Katrina Williams ’78, Richard Underwood ’78, Leticia Alejandro ’78 (my sister), and myself.

Overall, Olga was responsible for sending the largest group ever from New Orleans to Vassar. We were so large, we were able to get a group discount on our airfare! At Vassar, I received an uncompromising, challenging, and excellent education, which has been the backbone of all of my educational and professional endeavors. I also made tremendous friends whom I still love and keep up with after all these years. To top it off, at Vassar I met Robert Jackson ’77 whom I married in 1980. Olga also recruited him from another New Orleans public high school, McDonogh 35. Although he had been accepted at Harvard, Olga made such an impression on him that he decided to attend Vassar.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for spotlighting a wonderful human being who has made such a difference in so many people’s lives!

Grisela Alejandro Jackson ’78
New Orleans, Louisiana

Joining the Debate

I’ve attended two commitment ceremonies, and I don’t recall either of them being “a sweet, but second-class substitute for ‘the real thing’” or “an imitation wedding which everyone knows isn’t legal” [as stated by alumnae interviewed in “To Have and To Hold,” Winter 2004].

The first ceremony I attended was a dozen years ago, when a Vassar classmate and his partner invited friends and family to witness a public celebration of their love for and commitment to one another at a gathering at their new apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. They recited personally written vows, exchanged rings, invited guests to offer their blessings and thoughts, and after we all managed to dry our tears, they served Kosher sushi. It was a heartfelt event filled with meaning, and there was nothing ersatz or second class about it. The fact that the government’s imprimatur had nothing to do with it made it all the more poignant. At the time, government-sanctioned same-gender marriage was beyond our wildest imaginings. So my friends were forced to improvise and create a ceremony that suited them. No one who was there that day will forget it.

The second commitment ceremony I attended was my own, eight years ago. Our officiator, who was an old friend and mentor of my partner, explained to our 200 guests exactly what our ceremony was and was not, so there was no confusion that we were trying to imitate anything. We put much thought into the secular ceremony itself, which included some of our favorite elements from both Jewish and American wedding traditions.

While we would have been glad to have had the legal rights that come along with marriage, we didn’t feel any less a couple in each other’s eyes or the eyes of our loved ones because we lacked a marriage license. No one who witnessed the ceremony could doubt that we loved each other or that our commitment was any less serious than that of a legally married opposite-gender couple.

Too often I think we gay people hunger for what we don’t have without examining what it is we’re going to get and what we may lose in the process. Yes, we should have the right to legally marry. And one day, maybe we will. But before we write off commitment ceremonies as “second-class substitutes,” for legal marriage we should consider whether there is something of value to be drawn from the experience of the many thousands of us who have chosen these ceremonies as a way to celebrate our love and devotion in the presence of the communities that love and support us in return.

Eric Marcus ’80
New York, New York

About your article on same-sex marriage [“To Have and To Hold,” Winter 2004], I have passed it on to many people who here (3,000 miles away) hear the same thing over and over in the local news. Molly Shanley has offered a new idea in civil union.

Ann Kingsley Diestra ’57
Portland, Oregon

Heartfelt Thanks

My mother, my brothers, and I would like to thank the former students, faculty, and emeriti who have been generous in contributing to the Donald M. Pearson Organ Recital Fund. This fund was established following my father’s death on February 11, 2004, at almost 87 years of age. He had been professor of music and college organist for 36 1⁄2 years from 1946 – 1982. For 18 of those years, he conducted the Vassar College Choir.

Over the years there were numerous students who kept in touch with my parents. I called many of them to tell them the news, and I heard how he and mother had been pivotal influences in many of their lives. Their stories remembered and honored him in a personal and special way, which was remarkable to me after all these years.

Donations to the fund may be made payable to Vassar College and clearly marked as benefiting The Donald M. Pearson Organ Recital Fund. This fund will ensure that the Gress-Miles chapel organ and the new Paul Fritts organ will be played for many years to come by visiting artists. We can’t imagine a more fitting memorial to my father than bringing enrichment and enjoyment to new generations of students through these magnificent organs.

Timothy F. Pearson
Tilton, New Hampshire

In Memoriam: Matthew Carey

On December 3, 2004, Matt Carey ’03 died. He was a role model to many, whether as a comic, actor, student, or friend. I always admired him for his determination in meeting the goals that he set for himself, at Vassar and beyond. During the weekend of the funeral services, people traveled from all parts of the United States to gather and celebrate Matt’s life. I realized that I was in the presence of so many different kinds of people who had probably never been in the same room before. The common thread among all of us was how much Matt had touched each of our lives. Undoubtedly, we will all carry his spirit with us by sharing our memories of Matt, laughing through life, and by remembering how he taught us to create our own futures. Thank you, Matt.

Casie Smith ’03 (on behalf of Matt Carey’s friends)
New York, New York

Vassar Pride

I have for several years followed the career of Patricia Shoer Goldman-Rakic ’59 and her inestimable contributions to mental illness research. I first heard of her tragic death in the National Alliance for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression (NARSAD) newsletter, a group my family has supported for many years and a group Goldman-Rakic decisively aided in its efforts. Turning through the pages of the VQ Winter 2004 issue, I was surprised to come upon your feature on her. But it should come, really, as no surprise to me anymore that those who set high goals and achieve much are so often Vassar grads. She made me proud all over again to be a part of the Vassar tradition.

A.V. Christie ’85
Malvern, Pennsylvania

Report of Gifts Reaction

I think that I shall never see a thing as lovely as a tree. Particularly now that the college has had a hand in contributing to the demise of goodness knows how many such creatures in publishing its Report of Gifts, a weighty tome that must be the epitome of a waste of paper. It is particularly ironic that the no doubt well-meaning producers of the book chose as its central illustrative theme none other than the tree itself, photographed beautifully by Lois Conner. Is such a flagrant waste of the earth's precious resources necessary in order to attract donations to our school? Vassar clearly needs to raise its environmental consciousness.

Marguerite Rigoglioso ’84
Larkspur, California