I firmly believe in the metaphysical experience of staying up all night every once in a while in an academic capacity. It is nothing like staying up all night to go to a party, or to go to a party after going to a party, which I have done before…The night is much shorter, paradoxically, than if you were doing it voluntarily. First it is one o'clock, as it frequently is, and then it is three-thirty and finally, much later, it is five and then suddenly it is ten minutes past seven and all the other people are beginning to crawl out of bed having slept all night, a fact which you scorn, and are looking simply terrible, – much worse than you, and you have the feeling that life has been passing them by whereas you, YOU know the value and meaning of everything. Knowing how long the night is, exactly, and how much can be accomplished in that time, and what time the sun comes up in the latter part of May, is a little bit like knowing how long life is.
—  letter from a Vassar student, May 1958

To the class of 2017:

August has, for the past 4 years, meant returning. It has meant homecoming. It has meant fresh starts, new pens, and blank pages.

August has come to mean, to me, Vassar. And now, suddenly, it doesn’t.

When I graduated (a whopping 2.5 months ago), it felt right and good and true.  I was ready. It wasn’t until August peaked around the corner that I felt like something was missing. 

You, luckiest of all the most lucky in my mind, are about to set foot on my favorite place, and I envy you beyond reason.

I challenge you to try more do more be more than you think you can.

Stay up late, talk to those kids down the hall, experience the end of an all nigher from the library, the Rose Parlor, your dorm room. Lie awake on a Saturday night and listen to all the comings and goings of the quad. Kiss a stranger. Kiss your best friend.

Follow the 2 week rule.

Go to the bridge next to the willow on Sunset Lake, lie down, tip your head over the edge, and enjoy.

Spend all day on the quad. Listen to a new favorite song, make a new friend & watch the shadows grow long.

Get a solid crew together for breakfast.

Get a solid crew together for dinner.


be brave. be nervous. be fucking terrified.

Visit people in their rooms, share your clothes, walk to Acrop at 3 in the morning.Take more pictures than you think you need to.

There’s a quiet nook next to the Shakespeare garden…spend an afternoon there alone. Bask in those fleeting moments of privacy.

Say no to things, to people, to projects.

Fight over which one is the best dorm (Davison, obviously).

Watch a lightening storm from the Earth Circle. 

Leave messages hidden in books in mailboxes on trees. 

Come up with a code.

Relish in the talent of others. Don’t be afraid to take on leadership roles. 

love and love and love until you think you can love no more.

surprise yourself by loving again.

Speak up in class. Don’t be afraid to let someone change your mind. Take a pie from the deece and eat it in the orchard. Get lost on the farm. Sleep outside. Watch the stars.

Dance. What you feel, when- and wherever you feel it.

at the mug

in the villard room

for VRDT

for flypeople/hype/on tap/shakers

for yourself

alone. in a crowded room. in the dark. 

Be wild. Be uncertain. Be committed. Be there for others. Be generous, and be so often. But be selfish sometimes. Be good to yourself.

Get off campus.

Recognize that nothing is perfect. Don’t be afraid to point out the corruption, the hypocrisy, the unrealistic idealism. Fight for the changes you believe need to happen to make things better.

Collect something… bottle caps, ticket stubs, dried flowers. Mark the passage of time with something other than deadlines.

Eat good food.

Be comfortable in your body, somehow. 

Listen to music when you shower. 

Make sure you don’t remember Freshman/Sophomore/Junior/Senior year because so much has happened, not because you drank any single one of them out of your brain. 

Spend the next 4 years learning Vassar and build for yourself the most amazing group of friends anyone can ask for. Hold each other up hold each other together. Be sensible and crazy for one another when you need to be. Be vulnerable and let them see you. Truly you. At your best and your worst and anything in between. See them back. Laugh often and loudly.

And then, when you’re not quite ready, just because you can, move in with strangers. 

Fall in love with them.

That’s what I did, and it worked out pretty damn well.

Vassar is where I discovered myself, found my soul mates, and learned to chase my dreams. She is responsible for who I am and who I will become.

So take good care of her. And she’ll try her best to take care of you, I promise.

Have a great 4 years you lucky little turds. I’ll see you on the other side.


Maria Mitchell - Scientist of the Day

Maria Mitchell, an American astronomer, was born Aug. 1, 1818, in Nantucket. Mitchell was the first professional woman astronomer in the United States and a role model for generations of aspiring women scientists. She was trained by her father, a school-teacher, and had the extreme good fortune to discover a comet in 1847. Not only was she the first to see the comet, she also had the mathematical skill to calculate its orbit. Her feat won her an international gold medal from the Danish government, the first such recognition for any American woman, and eventually, the professorship of astronomy at Vassar College, also the first such position for any woman. (It is probably of interest to some of this reading audience that, before she became famous, Mitchell spent 17 years as a librarian on Nantucket.) Mitchell was admitted to various male bastions, such as the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Boston (the only woman so honored until the 20th century), but she decided early on that, instead of trying to show men that women could be good scientists, she would spend her life showing young women that they could be good scientists. She seems to have done a superb job at this task, becoming a legendary teacher at Vassar. Antonia Maury, a noted astronomer at Harvard, was one of her pupils. The lovely albumen print portrait of Maria above is at Harvard.

In 1863, Matthew Vassar, the founder of Vassar College, personally commissioned a telescope for Mitchell from Henry Fitz, a well-known New York telescope builder. With a lense 12 inches in diameter, it was second among American telescopes only to the great refractor at Harvard (see second image above). The telescope is now in the National Museum of American History in Washington. Vassar also built an observatory for Maria; a period photo can be seen above, just below the Fitz refractor.

The small telescope that Mitchell used to discover the Nantucket comet is now mounted in her childhood home on Vestal Street (see last photo above), across from the headquarters of the Maria Mitchell Association, the group her descendants founded in 1908 to continue Mitchell’s lifelong passion for the natural sciences and science education.

Dr. William B. Ashworth, Jr., Consultant for the History of Science, Linda Hall Library and Associate Professor, Department of History, University of Missouri-Kansas City

willayork  asked:

Hey- I live ~45 min from Vassar college (&work even closer) I have no idea how one "checks the records" but if you want me to go look & see if she was valedictorian I'd be happy to do so

Aw, thank you! That’s not necessary, but it’s very sweet of you to offer.

Honestly - and this is where I diverge from outlets like @missedinhistory or @askhistorians - this is an example of a place where, to me, that point is not overly important. Let me explain:

RP is me trying to illustrate, with words and pictures, a historical (or occasionally mythical) tale. I am not trying to provide the official record. That’s much better left to the precision of historians, of people who cross all Ts and dot all Is.

My goal is to tell a story, and to make a case that said story should be remembered and celebrated. I know I’m not going to get every detail right. I tried to do so for about two years and drove myself crazy in the process.

In the context of storytelling, saying Sutematsu was valedictorian is shorthand for “she was a very good student” - that’s the information being conveyed. I can just as easily reword to say she got to speak in front of her class at graduation and the same point is conveyed. Whether she was the smartest is largely irrelevant to the point I’m trying to make.

It’s like playing a piece of music and one note is just slightly off, to the point where only a handful of people can pick up on it. It’s like getting someone’s eye color or dominant hand wrong - unless it’s at the crux of their story, I’m sorry to say it’s not getting my full attention. I’ve got too much music to play and I need to keep going.

I understand and respect those details are important to some, and I’m super glad said people exist. They write amazing books with amazing insight, and I attempt to do their work (and their subjects) justice with my summaries and illustrations. It is entirely understandable that said population would care so much and look over my work with such a fine-tooth comb.

Where I take issue is when that level of note-perfect precision is demanded of everyone who’d engage with the material. It is entirely understandable that historians would take umbrage at inaccuracies. Hell, I get furious at bullshit like Braveheart or 300: Rise of an Empire. I even get that some historians can take one or two off notes as grounds to dismiss my entire body of work. I find it a harsh conclusion, but that’s their informed prerogative. 

My frustration lies in instances where a historian will declare, to people who cannot themselves hear the off notes, that my work is atonal and worthless - and that by virtue of their training, this conclusion is the only worthwhile one. That getting a minor point wrong puts me on the same footing as Disney’s Pocahontas

To me, it’s a derivation of the Internet’s favorite game, Perfect or Hitler - it’s the game where you’re perfect…. or you’re Hitler. It’s the game where everyone loses.

Anyways, that’s my take on it. Your mileage may vary, and that’s okay. I’m doing my best and that’s all I can do.