Celebrating Memorable Smith Alumnae

Trang Le '17Assistant Features Editor

It’s that time of the year again, when the cherry blossoms bloom and the cold wind stops whipping at our faces. One enjoys all the pleasures of Northampton, only to be reminded that it is also time for goodbyes and a huge amount of packing. Some of us may have raised the question: “What was I able to accomplish in four years?” But before asking this of ourselves, why not take a look at those before us and what they have achieved after walking the steps of Seelye and spending nights testing their resilience in Neilson Library? Before coming to Smith, I aspired to be a writer (and then switched my major to mathematics, but, being part of the Sophian makes up for my lost goal of having a writing career), hence, I admired Smith for being the alma mater of Sylvia Plath ’55 and Margaret Mitchell ’22. As time passes, Smith never ceases to nurture successful and ambitious women writers. Various publications, such as Tamura Toshiko’s short story “A Woman Writer,” have discussed the challenges of being a writer and a woman in a world hostile to female aesthetic ambition. However, many Smith alumnae have pursued their passions and made a name for themselves in the publishing industry. One of these ambitious women is Ruth Ozeki ’80, a Canadian American novelist, filmmaker and Zen Buddhist priest. She graduated from Smith with a degree in English Literature and Asian Studies. Her most recent novel, “A Tale for the Time Being,” is a story told by a sixteen-year-old Japanese American girl in the form of a diary, and a Japanese American writer who found the diary washed up on the shore after the devastation of Japan caused by the 2011 tsunami. The story highlights the complexity of identity and the capability of text to transcend time and space. Winner of the LA Times Book Prize and the Medici Book Club Prize, the novel is described by Kirkus as “a masterpiece, pure and simple.” Ozeki is returning to Smith in Fall 2015 to teach advanced fiction writing. Not only in the world of art, but also in the sciences, do Smith alumnae become pioneers in their fields. Victoria Lye-Hua Chan-Palay ’65 was the first woman to receive a medical degree summa cum laude from Harvard University. Chan-Palay is a Singaporean-born neuroscientist whose work focuses on the cerebellum—the part of the brain that controls coordinated movement. Her work, in collaboration with her husband, Sanford Palay, helped contribute to making the cerebellum “one of the most clearly understood systems in the mammalian brain,” wrote Anahad O’Connor in The New York Times. Surrounded by the names of many great women that came before us, we will wonder what we have done and can do to enter the list of those who have successfully realized their passions. College is the time to discover oneself; however, having one’s own Wikipedia page or making the headlines does not do justice to the journey of self-discovery. All of us have been through an exciting phase of our life, and the end of college is just the beginning. Once we leave this small, hipster town and say goodbye to windy days on Chapin Lawn, all of us will be more than ready to enter the real world with a strong and a compassionate awareness of the world.