Re: Vassar Yesterday, Spring 2007

I was in the audience at Timothy Leary’s lecture in Students’, though I don’t remember much, if anything, of what he said. (Some may think that this proves the saying, “If you can remember the ’60s, you weren’t there,” though I’d argue it has more to do with the fact that it was 39 years ago!)

But there is one thing I recall with perfect clarity: he gave his lecture sitting on the floor of the stage (no podium, no chair) with his legs crossed, barefoot — and the bottoms of his feet were filthy!

Leslie Branton Hoffecker ’71
Alexandria, Virginia

I WAS A FRESHMAN WHEN [Timothy Leary] spoke on campus on March 3, 1968. I do not know who invited him or why, but even then I knew he was a drugged-out jackass with nothing to impart to me. I stayed away in droves.

Linda Civitello ’71 
Los Angeles, California

Re: "Techs + Scholars," Spring 2007

Old enough to be her mother, and like her mom a solo parent at the time, I had the pleasure of sharing an education class with Melissa Silberman ’94.

One day Melissa came to me in tears. She had just been informed by one of her professors (in front of the class) that she had to start over on her senior project. Melissa was told that her idea of having inner-city students develop a script of a Shakespearean play into their own vernacular was unacceptable.

My heart broke for Melissa — she so believed in the project she was trying to accomplish and the young people she wanted to enlighten. After quickly regaining her composure, Melissa’s attitude let me know that she was undaunted by this obstacle and would faithfully continue on her path, regardless.

I lost track of Melissa; in fact, that may have been the last time we spoke. But when very successful films with themes similar to her idea started to appear, I thought of her and incredulously shared this story with others. Now having read the VQ’s article about Principal Silberman’s recent triumphs at Brooklyn’s Automotive High School, I have reason to share my sentiment aloud: “Melissa had it right after all!” I also prefer to believe that that rejection 13 years ago unwittingly served to strengthen Melissa’s resolve further.

Thank you, Melissa. Thank you for staying true to your selfless journey. Yours is a wonderful story of hope and redemption. May your dreams, on behalf of so many others, continue to come true.

Laurel Herdman ’95
West Hurley, New York

Euthenics Institute

In your article on Ferry House in the Winter 2006 issue, you make reference to the Euthenics Institute at Vassar. The summer of 1937, my parents, along with their two little children, attended the institute, my father probably commuting from Philadelphia where he was a minister of a church. I was two years old and my older sister was six. I lived in a single dorm room in Cushing, and in my baby book there are pictures taken of me playing in what I now suppose was the Wimpfheimer Nursery School playground.

When the institute was started in the 1920s, families were housed together, but by the mid-’30s children lived apart from their parents and were united with the rest of the family for just one hour a day. Imagine how a two-year-old as well as a six-year-old felt about that separation. I would love to know more about the institute aside from what I can glean from my sister’s memories and our photographs.

Emily Hargroves Fisher ’57
Sheffield, Massachusetts

Re: "Out in the Open," Spring 2007

The article "Out in the Open: Environmental Risks and Breast Cancer” (Spring 2007) may leave readers with the mistaken impression that environmental risks have contributed to recent increases in the incidence of breast cancer. While some groups like Breast Cancer Action do push this view, it is based more on chemical-phobia than sound epidemiology.

Breast cancer is on the rise because we are looking for it. Over the last two decades, the proportion of women aged 40 years and older who have been screened has more than doubled. American women are also screened much more aggressively than women in Europe. Mammography detects early-stage tumors that would later develop into late-stage cancer. It also detects small tumors that would never have become clinically apparent if left untreated. Notably, increases in the incidence of early-stage tumors account for almost all of the increase in total breast cancer incidence.

Other factors that may contribute to increases in breast cancer incidence include reductions in heart disease mortality (the longer you live, the more likely you are to develop and test positive for cancer), changes in childbearing patterns, obesity and lack of exercise, and use of hormone replacement therapy.

David Howard ’94
Decatur, Georgia

Indeed the message of our work is that there is substantial and increasingly strong scientific evidence that environmental chemicals may be contributing to the current high rates of breast cancer. Improvements in detection have certainly led to higher rates of diagnosis and reporting, and the many factors that Professor Howard [associate professor of health policy and management, Emory University] lists are also important. Yet they are not sufficient to explain the trends in cancer rates observed over the past several decades.

Increasingly sophisticated epidemiological data, supported by toxicological and cellular biology studies, support the concern that environmental chemicals may alter the risk for breast cancer later in life, especially when developing girls are exposed in utero, during childhood, and/or during adolescence. I believe these data warrant serious and thoughtful discussion, not dismissal.

Professor Janet Gray,
Project Director for the
Environmental Risks and Breast Cancer CD Project

In Memoriam: Noveed Shakibai '95

I wanted to share my thoughts about Noveed Shakibai, class of 1995, and the very sad news I read about him in the last Vassar Quarterly. When I glimpsed his name at the bottom of our Class Notes, I smiled and kept reading. I didn’t want to skip to the end because I was saving Noveed for last. And then when I got there, the news was the worst I could get.

I lived with Noveed in the THs during my senior year, which wasn’t a particularly easy one for anyone in our house, even if it wasn’t on the surface. But when I think back to that time I remember all the warm, funny moments, and Noveed was a big part of them. So many times since graduation I have told someone who has never met Noveed a story about something he said or something we did together that had them, and me, cracking up.

I know that there are many people out there who were much closer to Noveed than I was, and I’ve been thinking about them, too. He made a huge impression on me, and even though I haven’t seen him for years, I’m really going to miss him.

Chrissy Persico ’95
New York, New York

2007 Commencement Speaker

Thank you for producing an enjoyable and informative Quarterly [Spring 2007]. I look forward to its arrival each time. I am writing about the announcement of the commencement speaker for 2007. Put me down as surprised that Ms. Terry Gross has been selected for that honor. She has always struck me as a lightweight, more a “pop” journalist, clever but quite shallow. For that reason I outgrew listening to her long ago. 

However, I did make an effort to hear her interview of President Jimmy Carter regarding the publication of his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. I was taken aback by her rudeness and confrontational manner with Mr. Carter. He has done more for peace in the Middle East than any living American. Perhaps she has issues with the President, along with some other journalists. She certainly did not treat him politely.

Put me down as wanting Vassar to choose commencement speakers who have some kind of weight and gravitas, consonant with the stature of Vassar as an educational institute of well-deserved high standing.

Mary McAlpine Johnson Bisharat ’46 
Carmichael, California