Farewell speech given on April 20, 2007 by Mary Louise Cookson at the Farewell Dinner held in her honor
Jump to: Tony Hughes | Alumnae | Family | Brother Dan | David Crombeque | Jane Farella
Thank you. I am overwhelmed with the generous comments made here tonight. I’ll need time to process all of this. But, if even a minute fraction of what you said here tonight is true, I can be deeply proud of my work as I leave; and I thank you for that.
I want tonight to be one of those rare moments in Math Department history when we are all of one mind. You know as well as I do that certainly amongst the math faculty, there are often as many viewpoints on an issue as there are faculty members. Alben William Barkley-- US Representative, Senator, and the 35th VICE-President of the United States-- once said, (quote) “The best audience is intelligent, well-educated, and a little drunk.” (unquote) Hopefully, the extra wine and champagne provided by my husband will round out your qualities so you’ll be the perfect audience, and we’ll be mentally in unison for just this night!
One of my most fervent beliefs in life is that we each have an obligation to make the most of our time here on earth. We as human beings are charged with developing our talents to the fullest and never wasting a moment of our time. We must think only the best, work only for the best, and expect only the best that life has to offer. It is necessary, then, that we engage in some introspection and extract the best from each and every phase of life as we pass through its various stages. It is important for me at this time to reflect on the BEST things here that I can take with me as I move beyond these years at Bryn Mawr College. I would like to elaborate tonight on the BEST that is in each of you that I gratefully take with me from this experience of a lifetime.
Where do I start?
I’d like to start where this all started, and that was in the mind of Anthony Hughes. For those of you who do not know him, I’d like to introduce the man who furnished the reason we gather here tonight. (I introduce to you Anthony Hughes.) Nineteen years ago this very month, April of 1988, Tony Hughes and I were both teaching mathematics at nearby Villanova University. I was in a 4 year job there that was soon to end, and I had just filled out 22 (I remember that number exactly!) 22 applications to go back to teach high school mathematics (the job I had when I first graduated college). Tony came to my office one day that April of 1988 and informed me that his wife at the time (Rhonda Hughes), as Chair of the Bryn Mawr Mathematics Department, was searching for someone to fill this particular position. He described the position as a combination of teaching introductory mathematics and doing some administrative work for the department. He said he felt that I would be a good candidate for the job and that I should seriously consider applying for the position. I did exactly that, as Tony instructed, and I came to the Bryn Mawr campus for the first time to interview and give a talk during Math Awareness Week (which we just celebrated here these last few days). The rest is history; and now we sit in this room 19 years later, to that very week. Tony Hughes had an idea, and he acted on it! I was but a mere youngster of 33 at that time, but Tony saw something in me that made him believe I could contribute to this institution. Tony, your skillful insight somehow linked me to this mathematics department, and my life was forever changed as a result. I care tonight that YOU, Tony, MORE THAN ANYONE ELSE IN THIS ROOM, that YOU are well pleased with the outcome of that suggestion, that you are well pleased with how this story unfolded, and that you are well pleased with how I “worked out.” Tony Hughes, tonight is YOUR night, as much as it is mine! I thank you!
To the former Bryn Mawr math majors here tonight-- Kathleen Dooley, Abigail Kay, and Ayako Fukui—I am grateful to each of you for your individual student contributions to Bryn Mawr years ago -- those long hours of hard work, your diligence, your many questions and original thoughts, and of course your undying love of mathematics, which we all share. But tonight the three of you symbolize the collective group of over 3500 students I have taught in my career here at Bryn Mawr College. I have a little pillow in my office, as well as a small frame on a shelf, that both say the same thing: (quote) “To teach is to touch a life forever.” (unquote) When one reads that statement, it is typical to think that the teacher touches the student’s life. I realize now that in choosing teaching as a career, it was MY life that was touched – touched by the thousands of students who sat on the other side of the desk in my courses. Of all that I take with me as I leave, the influence of my students is the most powerful piece; for the student is the center of education and is all that really matters. I thank you!!
A quick mention of my loved ones here tonight before I speak about those I’ve worked with over these years…
I’m delighted to say that my son was able to join us tonight from New York City. I’d like to introduce to you Michael Nigro. Suffice it to say, no mother could be prouder!
Most of you already know my husband, John Cookson. Just briefly, I’ll borrow from Oscar Wilde to tell you that John is “an ideal husband.” Thank you, John, for holding my hand throughout these 19 years, for holding me up when I was down, and for just simply holding me. I love you!
I met you just a few years ago when you began your graduate work here and served me as a grader for my calculus classes during your first semester. You have become my very special friend in just that short time. Anyone who really knows me knows I am a deeply spiritual individual. I strive to be governed in all that I think and do by a Spiritual Force. You and I share that significant element of life. I thank you for praying for me, as I pray for you, for we will always be connected. Thank you, Dan, for the best gift anyone can give me!
David Crombeque, you joined this department last fall and I hope that we all welcomed you with open arms. I have so enjoyed our conversations on Paris and the French countryside, and your accent continues to be music to my ears. You are beginning your career in mathematics as I am concluding mine. I hope that you will enjoy the journey as much as I did. I wish you well.
Jane Farella, our paths crossed so many times over the years as you were darting in or out to teach for us. You stand for what I believe is most vital in education, and that is GOOD SOLID teaching. You were always a pleasant personality in our hallway and put a smile on my face each and every time I saw you. And, tonight, meeting your husband, Andy Farella, for the first time, is a treat for everyone. In our encounters over the years, Jane, the pleasure was all mine!
Ty Cunningham, I still remember your voice on that phone call of 19 years ago that informed me I had gotten this job. You were so willing to help me learn the ropes when I first arrived, and you made me feel like I could “belong here” and prosper. When you, Ty, and Caroline enter a room, all of us stand a little taller in our shoes, all of us reach to be our better selves. Since you are a man of such great character and always take the high road, your presence on this earth reminds me that man continues to evolve; and you are further down the line in human evolution than the rest of us. Thank you for always providing a moral compass in decisions of this department and in serving as the ethical bar to which we should all aspire. I will never forget you!
You and I were in the math department together for so many years. During that time, I developed such a deep respect for you as a man and for you as a professional. I’ve admired your entrepreneurial spirit and your brilliant foresight in the field of Computer Science. When you are part of a group, Deepak, or even just part of a conversation, you always contribute something that MOVES THINGS FORWARD! On the personal front, you supplied me with so much laughter as a dear friend and confidant that we could fill an arena. And, yes, arena is the operative word, as you and Rhonda and I shared so many fun-filled evenings at the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia and at Penn’s Palestra enjoying both college and professional basketball. Thank you for providing that necessary outlet for my stress, and for representing the best in human camaraderie. I hope those outings will continue for many years to come, for your friendship is one I truly value. Thank you!
Now for the current full-time continuing Math Department faculty-- I’ll do this in reverse order of when you FIRST joined the mathematics department, except for Becky and Betsy who I will do out of order.
As the Chair of this department right now, Lisa, I’ll speak to you first, AND last! So, I’ll begin and end with you.
Since you are younger than I am by 10 years, I look at you and recognize things I could have done better a decade ago. First of all, you are the quintessential example of the healthy lifestyle since you not only eat right, but you also exercise daily. I never really got the hang of exercising on a regular basis. Let that be my first resolution when I conclude my employment here. Secondly, you react to setbacks calmly; and I am known for NOT doing anything calmly. You even made pregnancy look easy! How is that possible?!? When I observe how you operate, I learn; and I realize I’d do things better if I had a second chance, if I had another go-around. Furthermore, we all have our favorites, Lisa, and it is no surprise that your adorable son Emmett is one of mine. You are an outstanding mother; and when you interact with Emmett, your natural beauty is patently obvious. We didn’t need an occasion like tonight for me to know that you are a fan of my work. You have complimented me so often on what I do around the department, and it has meant the world to me. But, as you compliment me, Lisa, please know that it is I who think highly of you. Thank you, Lisa Traynor, for your strong support of my work and for your example in life that I will strive to follow.
When you first arrived, we immediately bonded because you had also taught high school mathematics, as I had done years ago. We attended the joint meetings of the AMS/MAA in Baltimore and talked shop for days. It was so refreshing for me to see eye to eye with someone on almost every aspect of education. I recognized you to have astute common sense on all matters of classroom management. When Helen chooses a textbook, I like it! I felt privileged to be able to plop in your office time and time again to discuss whatever burning issue of pedagogy was on my mind.
In addition, Helen, you are the master of analytical thought and logical reasoning. You have sweetened my life—not only with the delectable desserts that you and Doug craft—but more so with that same logic and reasoning that attracted me to the field of mathematics initially. My record is in tact: I have never once won an argument with Helen Grundman. Her step-by-step reasoning and airtight logic cannot be refuted. Recently, my daughter Christine reminded me that I used to quote Helen when I was giving advice to Christine in her formative years. This was, no doubt, when Christine was an hysterical teenager and I was desperately trying to get her to calm down and THINK CLEARLY. Although Christine’s teenage years are over, my need for sanity is far from over. So, don’t be surprised, Helen, if I contact you in years to come, begging you to inject some sort of logic or rationality into one of my future confused states. Helen Grundman, my heart thanks you for illuminating my mind when I needed it most. I remain forever grateful!
This man is the true OPTIMIST amongst us tonight. When Victor was Chair, I remember him saying to me that he thought we—the math faculty—could actually enjoy working together. At the time, I felt this was a noble, if not ridiculous, goal. But, Victor, because you believed in that dream, it came true for me. I can honestly stand here tonight and say that I wholeheartedly enjoyed working one-on-one with each and every member of our department. You have been courageous, Victor, in not only moving toward dignified goals such as that one, but in your pursuit of innovations in the classroom and in all of math education. Regarding ideas and techniques in instruction that I viewed with fear and apprehension, you were brave enough to plunge forward and experiment. I applaud you for your valiant efforts and unparalleled stamina in these pursuits. On the personal level, too, you do not hide behind a shield, as you are willing to be vulnerable to connect with others without fear of hurt or rejection. You are a man who is the stellar example to other men of how to love a wife (your dear wife Michelle), how to love your children, and how to love a family beyond all else. In short, Victor, your heart is bigger than my calculus class. If my son can be the sort of father to his future children (my grandchildren) that you are to your two sons, I will be satisfied indeed. There is nothing more I need wish for. You have added the human and creative touch to my work environment over these years, and both my work and my soul are richer for it. Thank you, Victor Donnay, for these eternal and priceless gifts!
No, this is not a mistake. Leslie is not out of order. Although Leslie joined us a faculty member in 1999, she first joined our mathematics department as a student in the late 80’s. When I began my work here, Leslie was actually one of my calculus graders. I can still remember the image of her thoughtful, thorough remarks on my students’ homework papers. And now this very year, just several months ago, Leslie received tenure at this prestigious institution. Leslie, in you, my career has gone full circle. It warms my heart to witness your progress from undergraduate student to tenured faculty over my 19 years at Bryn Mawr.
And, Leslie, you are the living, breathing, walking lesson to all of us here tonight – especially to me —that we do not need a BIG mouth to be effective! In your own quiet way, you have made great strides for this department and contributed so much in so many different ways that it seems difficult to believe you are only one person. As Lisa Traynor represents the present, you represent the future; and I know you’ll do right by all those who have gone before you. Thank you Leslie Cheng, for you are the GEM of this department!
Peter Kasius was here at Bryn Mawr one year before I arrived. Peter, there is no faculty member that I taught side by side with more often than you. We have differentiated and integrated more than anyone else in this room! Calculus class, after calculus class, after calculus class, we compared notes, we revised projects, we discussed different approaches, we contrasted styles, and we rehashed assignments. Over the years, Peter, we laughed together and we cried together. We laughed together (secretly) when students astounded us with mind-boggling comments. And we cried together too. We cried in my office on 9 Eleven, and we had reason to cry. We cried when the death of my beloved parents was followed so closely in time by the death of your parents. You were my traveling companion, and we covered a lot of ground. Throughout it all, Peter, you’ve been my colleague and my friend in every sense. Thank you, Peter Kasius, for all that you’ve shared with me over the years, for I take it all with me now. Peter, I REALLY do not know what I would have done without you! Thank you!
Any tribute to Paul Melvin must begin with the obvious: This man NEVER ages! (Now if I could bottle THAT and take it with me, I’d really have something!) I remember that exact day back in April of 1988 when I first came to Bryn Mawr for my interview. I remember sitting in Paul’s office (the office he had then), the exact spot where I sat, and the expression on his face as we communicated for the first time. I can tell all of you that he looks EXACTLY the same tonight as he did that day! I kept having birthdays over these past 19 years, but Paul remains 20, or 10, or whatever he is. Even when your wife Barb had that beautiful party pretending to celebrate your 50th, none of us ever really believed it. This eternal youth does not stop with your appearance, Paul. You have a vibrant, youthful enthusiasm for mathematics that genuinely infects your students and infects all of us as your colleagues. Moreover, I’ve always been so tickled to tell others that I work with a man who could be a professional musician as well as a professional mathematician. When I began working with you years ago, I recognized you to be a gentleman and a scholar. I regard you still to this day a gentleman and a scholar, like none other I’ve known. In our relationship, Paul, the arrow – the vector— the arrow was pointed in one direction only, toward me, as I was always the fortunate recipient of your sage advice and comforting words. Never could I give you the comfort you probably needed over the years, and never could I offer you a hand in your research or your work. I could only marvel at you from afar. And I know if you live to be one hundred ten (110), you’ll never lose your unique spark, that youthful spirit. Thank you, Paul Melvin, for giving so much of yourself to me, for I am the better for it! Thank you!
And now to Betsy and Becky…
The schedule for my departure for those of you who don’t know is that my employment officially terminates here on August 31st. So, I’ll be working to the very last day, with the new faculty member overlapping with me during the month of August. (That new faculty member is Amy Myers, who is now teaching at St. Joseph’s University.) As this transition is made, I have two words of encouragement, two words of hope, for Amy Myers or any newcomer to this department: and those two words are “Betsy Cancelliere.” She is resourceful, dedicated, imaginative, inventive, quick-witted, innovative, practical, efficient, and thorough. Yes, Michael Cancelliere, you are lucky to have her! I often glance across the hallway from my office into yours, and hope that I am doing my job as well as you do yours. And, even more than what you do for me professionally, I owe you a great deal of gratitude for all you’ve done for me personally, particularly during the fall semester of 2005 when my father was dying. Although you only knew me just a short while at that point in time, you instinctively supplied me with what I needed to survive those months. And I know my father appreciated it, just as I did. At my time of greatest sorrow, you were there for me in a way that I will never forget. Betsy Cancelliere, I hope you believe in an afterlife, because your place in heaven is secure. Thank you!
For the 17 years before Betsy, Becky Roeser served as my right arm. Seventeen years of Becky Roeser, 2 years of Betsy Cancelliere. These two women are THE REASON why I call this job my dream job. Who could have been better served than I was?
Becky Roeser, you were here when I first arrived and you led me by the hand when I was clueless in those early years. Ty Cunningham once referred to you as the “mother of the math department.” That you certainly were! And as my own mother suffered from Alzheimer’s in her last 8 to 10 years of life, you became the worthy substitute. You helped me not only as the department’s technical secretary, but as a mother with personal issues like household discipline, cooking and preparing for holidays, and coping with my children’s endless list of extracurricular activities. On the highest level, you demonstrated how to live a life focused on others. You have always lived your life helping someone else-- always doing whatever you can to assist another. If you weren’t doing for one of us in the math department, you were helping another secretary in our building, or you were selflessly attentive to a student. And when you weren’t doing for us on the job, you were at home doing for your husband (New York Yankee fan) Pete Roeser, or one of your six children, or your grandchildren. You are charity incarnate. You’ve made your life about what you can do for others. It was never once about you, Becky. EXCEPT for now, right now, this moment, this tribute, this one’s for you! Thank you, Becky Roeser, for all that you are, and all that you do!
It is fitting that I speak of Rhonda now. It was the genius of Rhonda Hughes that created my position, and it was the genius of Rhonda Hughes over the years that inspired me to fulfill my position. When I came to Bryn Mawr to begin my work in August of 1988, what I knew about education was primarily classroom teaching. Rhonda taught me all I know about creating a lively, supportive mathematics department and attracting students to the field. She taught me how to strip mathematics of its elitist qualities and make it appeal to the masses. If truth be told, it was always the ideas of Rhonda Hughes that were behind any new initiative I introduced.
And if I never had one original idea or one creative thought of my own, but only implemented Rhonda’s ideas, only put her ideas into play and made them work for our department and for our students, then so be it—that’s honor enough for me!
And even with teaching too, Rhonda showed me a new dimension that seriously multiplied my talents. When I was an undergraduate at Villanova University, I had a professor who defined “love” to be “unconditional positive regard.” People often notice that there is a certain “chemistry” between Rhonda and her students. I believe that chemistry is love. Rhonda views her students with “unconditional positive regard.” There is love in your heart, Rhonda, when you present mathematics to your students, there is love in your heart when you advise students in your office, and there is love in your heart, Rhonda, when you take a student who is going no place fast and look into her eyes to highlight her strengths and put her on a pathway of success. And never was your regard for the human spirit more evident than in your reverent respect for Thoma Pacararu, a master’s degree student of yours who had cerebral palsy. When Thoma died, you immortalized him in the hearts and minds of this department. This, I believe, was your finest hour. Yes! Rhonda Hughes taught me that teaching is more about love than it is about anything. And the bottom line: anything that does not emanate from love has no place in the classroom and no place in education.
In the 1980’s, Rhonda, you had a vision for women and mathematics. It is one of my life’s greatest blessings that I was part of that vision. If you were King Arthur, I was a knight at your Round Table. There was no battle that could not be won, no goal that could not be achieved, and no student that could not be helped. I can never repay you for the impact you’ve had on my life. I can only wish-- I can only dream-- that I can have the same dramatic effect on another’s life as you have had on mine. From the depths of my being, I thank you!
I promised I would begin and end with the Chair, since Lisa you are the alpha and the omega right now. For the future, I will be sure to give you my cell phone number in case you want to contact me. If I am sitting poolside or walking on the beach and you ring me, I am sure that in this age of “surgically attached” cell phones, I will take your call. I’ll be happy to chat with you about whatever you wish, for as long as you like. And, as long as you never ask me to actually DO anything, I’ll help you out in any way I can. Lisa, you appear to be very much at ease in your new role, very comfortable in this time of transition for this group. I think it is correct that you are at the helm as I leave. Good luck to you as you lead this department toward a new horizon.
As for my own future, I am not making any plans. I leave that in the hands of the ONE above, for HE/SHE has never steered me wrong.
A final thank you to everyone in the room for celebrating with me here tonight. For those of you who just came for the food, that’s perfectly fine; I understand. I have enumerated here some, though not all, (I repeat—some, though not all…) of the BEST in each of you that I will take with me from this extraordinary experience. If you feel I did not do you justice, stop by my office and I’ll talk more. Kindly note that I have a request: Please remember only the good that is in me, please remember only my “greatest hits,” and please remember only the best that I had to offer. As my life continues beyond August 31st, rest assured I will hold the memory of these years close to my heart.