Mail Room

By The Editors / September / October 2003
June 22nd, 2007

Beacons of Light

As the parents of Laura Rothenberg ’03, we certainly appreciate the generous space and loving tribute you gave our daughter (“I Might Not Be There,” July/August).

One remarkable aspect of Laura’s story not mentioned is the support she had from Brown. As I wrote to your president: “Time and again Laura was assisted in trying to go on as she wished, as best she could. It was when she was helped to come back to Brown in the spring semester of 2002 and took a course in autobiographical writing that Laura wrote the manuscript which became the basis of her recently published book (It’s the spirit that’s the point. And the enlightened policies, which value the individual student). This is something for which we have been grateful, and of which surely we all can be proud.”

It would be impossible for anyone who did not know Laura, or interview her five times, as did the author of the penetrating article about her in Glamour, to feel the wonder of this child becoming a wise old woman, when her parents, who spent so much time with her, are still stunned and enthralled to be still puzzling the meaning of her life.

Laura was a giver, not a taker. One of the students pictured in the article was a brilliant premedical student who told Laura of her distress in May of her junior year, when she was turned down for summer research jobs in New York because of a mix-up in the transcript office. “Don’t worry,” my daughter said, “I’ll have you a job in twenty-four hours.” And she did, to my amazement, at the medical center where that student has just begun medical school.

Laura went beyond being strong. Through confronting again and again the difficulties of her own small life, she reached a determination and a celebration in living it that has inspired even her well-worn parents.

Now, I understand that BAM avoids chauvinism about Brown, but couldn’t you be a little more visibly proud when an undergraduate struggling to breathe on campus publishes a book like Breathing for a Living to such widespread critical praise? I suppose the Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus Review, New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and Boston Globe reviews hadn’t all been published yet; but, really, all one has to do is read the book.

Jon Rothenberg
New York City

Your article about Laura Rothenberg gripped me profoundly. Laura’s heart-wrenching story of her life evoked an image that will remain with me for life. “She will not be forgotten.” I sincerely regret that I didn’t have the privilege of knowing her in real life.

Her dauntless spirit will live on forever.

Harold W. Detwiler ’41
Summerton, S.C.

Although I am not an alumnus, i would like to congratulate all of you on the cover story about Laura Rothenberg ’03. I am good friends with a girl who has CF (cystic fibrosis), and the biggest thing she is worried about is that people won’t remember her when she is gone. This girl means the world to me, and I would give anything to have her around for as long as possible: she is the light of many lives. Although she is not as vocal about them, she has the same fears as Laura. I pray that people understand that even though a person may be sick, he or she is not incapable of feelings. All such people need all the support that is possible to give.

Thank you for showing that a person can still live with a debilitating condition. I pray that my friend will be a beacon of light to as many people as Laura was.

Shayne Brooks
St. Albans, Vt.

I found the story on Laura Rothenberg’s boundless courage in fighting her disease very inspiring. One thought remained, though: why did she have to feel alone on a Saturday night? There must be a way to get wireless laptops into hospital rooms so that she could have chatted with other people similarly stuck “indoors” on a busy social night. I put it to Laura’s friends, our many tech-connected alums, and the current on-campus computer-science geniuses to start a program to give hospital patients access to the Net. None of them should ever feel alone. Let’s get some hardware and software donations. Let’s make it happen!

Heather Seal ’94
Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.

Paying Up

The article on slavery reparations raised some excellent points about the New England slave trade and the involvement of the Brown family in it (“Sins of Our Fathers,” July/August).

However, the article quotes advocates who believe that Americans as individuals are somehow responsible for slavery and should pay reparations. I have trouble seeing the logic of that. None of us alive today chose to support slavery. Taking responsibility for what some ancestor may have done eight generations back does nothing to encourage taking responsibility for one’s own actions.

Also, reparations assume some financial culpability. You have to show that specific ancestors made money from slavery. Yet the ancestors of more than half of all Americans came to this country after 1860. The past 140 years have seen the great migrations of, among others, Irish, Germans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Asians, and Latinos. What about the white Americans who were here before 1860? Of the 31 million or so here in 1860, 22 million lived in non-slave states. Only a handful made money in the slave trade. Only one quarter of 5.5 million Southern whites were slave owners—one American ancestor in twenty. Asking the other 95 percent of America to pay up does nothing except create animosity.

I believe there is a value for businesses to acknowledge wrongs they may have done. Telling individuals to atone for the sins of forgotten ancestors slows the healing that still needs to take place.

Tim Truby ’73
Redondo Beach, Calif.

Commencement Reaction

Emily Gold Boutilier writes that former Brazilian president and recently appointed Brown Professor-at-Large Fernando Henrique Cardoso had “ended his second term as president in January, after losing his reelection campaign” (“Maiden Voyage,” July/August). She is only partly correct. After finishing his second term as president in January 2003, Cardoso was prohibited by the Brazilian Constitution from a third consecutive run. However, the candidate from Cardoso’s party, Jose Serra, a Cornell-trained economist who had served as Cardoso’s minister of planning and minister of health, lost the 2002 election to Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the Workers’ Party leader whom Cardoso had defeated in 1994 and 1998.

Luiz F. Valente ’83 Ph.D.

The writer is chairman of the Department of Portuguese and Brazilian Studies.

This year, as in every other year for more than a half-century, the Brown Commencement Band played the Commencement March for the procession of graduates, alumni, and educators through the Van Wickle Gates. As in other years, the band spent hours preparing music, uniforms, and instruments; rehearsing songs; and performing at other Commencement events. Despite this year’s downpour, the band played unsheltered (risking damage to the players’ instruments) for all five hours of Commencement ceremonies.

Unlike previous years, however, the 2003 Commencement Band faced significant impediments. In past years undergraduate band members were permitted to remain in their dorm rooms free of charge as compensation for their hours of service to the University. This year the band members had to negotiate to remain in their rooms without a fee, and only succeeded by forfeiting their meal stipends. Alumni band members, customarily offered small discounts on Commencement housing as compensation for their time and services, were charged the full rate. Although the University pitched in some financial assistance at the eleventh hour, the future of the Commencement Band remains precariously uncertain. Participation declined from a hundred people in 2002 to fifty-three this year.

If you feel, as we do, that the familiar strains of Brown’s time-honored melodies and the lively spirit of the dedicated Commencement Bandies are an important part of your Commencement Weekend tradition, please voice your concerns to University Hall.

Michelle L. Imber ’96
Brookline, Mass.

This letter was also signed by Daniel Macks ’96, Greg Friedman ’96, Chris Maden ’94, and John Angelo Gnassi ’84.

Interim Vice President for Public Affairs and University Relations Melanie Coon ’78 replies: After considering such key factors as fairness, a lack of space, and the needs of our alumni returning for reunions, the University last spring discontinued the practice of allowing student band members—at the time the only students who’d been permitted to stay in their dorm rooms for the weekend—to remain in their rooms. In this transitional year, however, all but six of the forty-one students involved remained in their rooms.

Next year the University will help student band members raise funds well in advance of Commencement Weekend and will provide $1,000 of seed money for this purpose.

The University also stopped offering complimentary Campus Dance tickets several years ago, and due to traffic patterns and the logistics of reunion registration, it is no longer possible for the band to play in Wriston Quad on Friday afternoon.

The Commencement Band is a much-valued contributor to the spirit and pageantry of Commencement Weekend, and we are grateful to the dedicated students and alumni who participate.

I volunteer in the juvenile unit of the Washington, D.C., jail and see the BAM because of my husband, Richard Taylor ’86. The inmates I work with are all sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds facing adult felony charges. Twice a month we gather for a book club and writing workshop. Yesterday I brought in photographs from magazines; we passed them out randomly, then asked the kids to write a story about one or more of the people in the pictures. Here is what one young man, Demetrius Beatty, had to say about a Commencement photo from page 49 of the July/August issue. This is his essay, just as he wrote it:

“I think it is a cool place to be right now in this photo. My parents use to allways tell me, you just don’t know how parents feel when there children get promoted to a better position in the world. I think it is kind of cool the way every body in this picture is graduating out side in the rain with umbrellas. The guy you can see the clearest look real exsited. He look like he singing a song. I wish I would have stayed in school and got to that position, but I am not going to beat myself up over it. I learn from my mistakes. I think it is odd to go all the way to the ninth grade and stop school. I mean you go from elementary to junior high and stop, not wanting to see what high school is all about? Well, that is a problem and you must be the person you are to fix it. This guy in the picture looked forward to this day. You can tell because he have a button up shirt, with a tie. He even smileing while he is singing. I wonder if them umbrellas was past out to the students because not one of them I can see have a colorful one. What a day he had!”

I just thought Demetrius’s piece was really touching, and wanted to share it.

Kelli Taylor
Arlington, Va.

God and War

In his review of Brown professor James A. Morone’s book Hellfire Nation: The Politics of Sin in American History, University of Chicago professor Martin E. Marty says that Morone only hints at the “contemporary and even immediate relevance” of his theme (“All Fired Up,” Arts & Culture, May/June). But Morone does dwell on the immediate relevance of the theme in The American Prospect of May, an issue devoted to “the most dangerous president ever.” In it, Morone contends that President George W. Bush “in God’s name” has not done as well as past presidents in finding a way to invoke God in wartime.

Robert A. Frenette ’54
Brockton, Mass.

Honoring the Dead

Like assistant professor michael Vorenberg, I am a historian of nineteenth-century America, but I found his back-and-forth about the appropriateness of using Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address to commemorate the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks less insightful than I’d hoped (“The Battle over Gettysburg,” Faculty P.O.V., January/February). By reflexively turning to Lincoln after 9/11, Vorenberg merely replicates the error made by our politicians, and worse still repeats the lack of imagination they have shown.

More than Lincoln, Robert Kennedy would have been the ideal in the context of the commemoration, especially the speech he gave in Indianapolis on the night of April 4, 1968. The crowd that had gathered, made up mostly of African Americans, had not yet heard that

Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated just hours before. Rather than heed his advisers and cancel the appearance, Kennedy went to the people.

Fortunately, his speech was recorded, and the anguish in Kennedy’s voice is still moving to the listener, as are the gasps and cries that followed his announcement that King was dead. He quoted Aeschylus, from Agamemnon: “And even in our sleep pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.”

Then Kennedy said, “Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.” Aeschylus, writing 2,400 years ago, speaks to us after 9/11 with more grace and eloquence than Lincoln. He honors the dead and gives courage to all the living. It is our misfortune that our present leadership, and its speechwriters, missed this.

Eric Love ’87
Denver, Colo.

To Be Clear

Stephen Golas ’00 writes that nothing has bothered him more than my assertion that Brown student-athletes are good citizens, an assertion that he believes slights nonathletes (“Who’s Number One?” Mail Room, May/June; “Ironic Decision,” Mail Room, January/February). On the contrary, one of my purposes was to support all Brown students who extend themselves beyond their classroom duties. Indeed, my basic message was to applaud the student-athletes who are students and citizens first.

Golas’s logic seems more appropriate to the jock shops he appears to think I favor. To be clear, my objection to the inappropriate action by the Council of Ivy Presidents to “clean up” sports reflected my belief that it was an unnecessary intrusion into these students’ daily lives. I have never favored Brown athletes’ receiving more consideration, financially or otherwise, than other students.

I reiterate: Brown’s student-athletes, and all those who volunteer their time and efforts beyond the classroom, deserve our support.

Robert L. Sweeney ’57
Vero Beach, Fla.

More Zucconis

Dave Zucconi ’55 came all the way to Tacoma, Washington, to introduce me to Brown (“Brown Always Came First,” Elms, March/April). He’d see me, 3,000 miles from home on a cold winter campus, and would lift my spirits and renew my commitment. While professors were focused on their studies, and administrators on their institution, Dave cared about people. And during those horrible 1960s and 1970s years, when it seemed as if students, professors, and administrators were seeing who could be more negative and destructive, he smiled and stayed upbeat.

We needed more Dave Zucconis then, and we need more now. Thank God we had one.

Dave Morgan ’71
Jesup, Ga.

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September / October 2003